Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

23 February 2010

Avatar: A Return To The Garden

a note on originality. . .  .

Now, when I was a girl, the wise old woman down the street was the most profound person I knew, and every word she uttered was pure, true, and absolutely hers.  When I was a teenager,  listening to my father talking about the new ideas of the day, I began to realize other people had thoughts equally as brilliant as the old woman down the street, and some people even had the same thoughts.  When I finally got a chance to learn to read, some time in my twenties, people were beginning to get concerned about receiving credit for the thoughts they wrote down.  I agreed; this is when my desire to write began, and it was accompanied by my belief that if I could write, my wonderful original ideas would be known for an eternity as mine and only mine.

I felt that way for over a hundred years, but I've gradually come to feel it is such an immature attitude, really, this belief that in this large, lovely world of ours one individual in one place could have a thought and be the only person to have it.  You can be certain that somewhere, thousands of miles away, or perhaps only on the next street, someone may be having a similar or the same thought, but not the means to express it.  And they may never have the means to express it, despite the brilliance of their thought.  So I have since come to believe that the myth of originality is really grounded in the phenomenon that I'd rather call "The I Wrote It First Syndrome."

But for a couple hundred years, especially in the West, men in particular lived under the illusion that one man was capable of having a single original thought, utterly different from every other man's thought, and definitely different from women's thought.  And men took ownership over thoughts, and got very uptight if someone said the same thing they said, without giving them credit.

Now, the internet has given us a new perspective: I'll have what I think is a brilliant, original thought, then Google it, only to find 250 pages of blogs and editorials and syllabi and articles on versions of my thought. It's impossible to know who wrote something first, or who may have thought it first.  This can be a really deflating and silencing experience, if I let it be.  Or, it can force us to think about thinking and expressing ourselves in a completely different way.  And yes, this is absolutely connected to the idea of the Grid, and its relationship to the Collective Mind.  The internet makes us realize that there is a collective mind, with a multitude of layers, embracing the earth, sort of like radio waves.  If we tune into the one we're "wired for" properly, we'll discover a thought, a priceless thought, that we share with many like-minded people.  That thought can empower us both individually, and as a species.

But that's something to pursue later.   Don't forget that image of the radio, though.

For now, I want to contemplate an idea that others have contemplated already: the idea that the movie Avatar's  Pandora is really Eden, and our longing for it is actually a longing for what we lost, or what we've had all along but not paid any attention to.

Where is Eden and how did we lose it?
Some believe that the original Eden was somewhere between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.  And perhaps that is the place where Adam and Eve hung their original hat.  However, I tend to believe Eden was and is the entire earth.  A virtual Pandora, indeed, with just as many beauties and mystical happenings as any fictional planet could ever have.  In fact, that burgeoning cauldron of young life that this planet once was was probably even more spectacular than anything James Cameron could imagine.

And one particularly beautiful life form that was here, brought here either by evolution or some divine decision, was human.  Shimmering and upright, seductive, vulnerable, and funny.  A delectable treat for the predators, but like every species, humans were given a capacity that they could use to save themselves and their species.  They were given a brain that was wired into a very complex system of senses.  Avatar acknowledges the cat-like nature of human-like creatures; humans are, like cats, capable of tuning into the intuitive, spiritual realm.  That's what the sixth sense is all about.  It's a sense that has been dulled over time.  But we have it.  That sense is directly related to bodily awareness, to the ability to be tuned into our physical surroundings by using our biggest organ: our skin.   It's rare that we think about that fact, but skin is an organ, and it is one with very precise functions, related to drawing nutrients from the air and the sun and to mediating the environment in which we live.

Neytiri, the Na'vi heroine in Avatar knows absolutely how to use her skin, and her inner eye, in combination with all her other senses (which for her are really secondary) in a wide range of circumstances and physical activities.  And this is what makes her, and her entire breed, so alluring and desirable.  But they are really not all that different from us.

We've absolutely lost our ability to use this complex combination of senses.  We rely on some of the weaker senses, like vision, which, you might note, Neytiri often uses last.  Quite frankly, the only time many humans today come even close to using their skin appropriately is when they're engaged with sex, and this is why some humans overindulge in it, the same way they might overindulge in alcohol and some drugs.  If we used our skin regularly, in the wide ranges of manners within which it is capable of being stimulated, then sex would be treated like the gift and sacrament it is really intended to be.  That's not to say it wouldn't be hot and steamy and wonderful; in fact it would be more hot and steamy and wonderful.   But since so many aspects of the sexual act have been fetishized, many of us have lost contact with the fact that the act of sex is the highest form of communion two humans can share, and it is at its richest when the people engaged in it have reached a very special level of mutual understanding.  And that doesn't imply that they should be married, or that the union need be heterosexual.  But it does imply that once two humans reach that level of union, they should feel no need to be with anyone else, because they are so absolutely in accord.

But again, in my usual way, I wonder off course.  Or maybe not.  In the Garden of Eden, that is how sex and sensuality would be.  And sensuality would not refer only to sex, it would refer to every interaction that we have with our natural environment.  And no one would get bent out of shape over it.  A bit like on Pandora.

Any human today who says they long to live on Pandora is really longing for a situation wherein all of our senses are alive again, and used in equal balance.  That, too, is why there's an increasing interest in survival reality shows, and horror films, and terror, and fear.  Since we don't know how, anymore, to interact with the natural world in a subtle way, we seek out activities that induce extreme adrenaline pumping interactions with the natural world.

It's because our senses have been dulled.  But what caused that dulling of the senses?

The Fall From Grace.  The Apple.

This brings me to one of my favorite books in the world, a book I can read again and again.  During the mid 1600's, after my first and greatest lover died, I spent twenty years or so living in a convent.  That first love, my greatest love, was the one who wanted to preserve my youth and beauty forever.  I wanted to get old with him, but unfortunately, his tonic worked.  I remained vitally youthful and alive, watching him age and whither.   But I didn't care; when we were together, I was so absolutely pleased to always be the only beauty in his eyes.  After he was gone, I grew to hate him, because his selfishness had damned me to wander the earth, alone, for an eternity, my forever young body forever the object of men's and women's lusts and desires.  I didn't really have any love of any kind, until very recently.  Yes, it felt like I was with my first love again, which is why when the eyes of my most recent love turned to flirtations with others, I grew so deeply hurt and sad.

But let's go back to the 1600's, in the convent, now in France, where I trained my voice to sing purely, and I poured over the Old Testament.  My favorite books were the Books of Genesis, Exodus, Ruth, Isaiah, the Proverbs, and the Psalms.  At that time, I took them quite literally, but since then I've gone through so many stages of understanding, and now I like to read them more in the tradition of Kabbalah (You have to understand, the only way I can keep these wonderful books fresh and alive for myself is to look at them in a number of ways.  The beauty of these books is that one can do precisely that, and each time find something that seems oh, so true.  Again, as with everything I'm writing here, I have to emphasize that I'm not claiming that what I'm saying is actually fact; this is just the way I now think about these books after 100s of years of reading them, and watching the stages of humanity passing me by. )

I take very literally parts of Chapter Three in Genesis, where the serpent approaches "the woman" and tells her that she will not die if she eats of the forbidden fruit, but rather "Ye shall not surely die; For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil." 

The apple is the fruit of knowledge; we all know that.  Christian, Jew, Muslim, we all know that.  But knowledge of what?

"And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons."  (Genesis 3:7)  For me,  that is one of the saddest lines - and perhaps most ridiculous images - in all of written literature.  Because at that instant, that instant of supposedly gaining knowledge, the woman and the man felt a need to hide their animal nature.  This was the first step towards dulling those senses that were intended to keep us in harmony with our natural environment.  It's been a snow-ball effect ever since, because this event, of course, was soon followed by jealousy, lust and competition, largely over a) a desire for something someone else has and/or b) an infatuation with another individual's body and its adornment.  Ornamentation and ostentation became the means by which humans judged each other, and rivalry set in.  Blood poured, soon after.  Think Cain and Abel.  Think Joseph and his coat of many colors.  Think every bloody gory story in history.

But let's get back to Genesis.  That sad, tragic moment of two creatures suddenly fumbling with leaves, attempting to find some way to cover themselves out of embarrassment over something that was just part of what they naturally were is followed by a comic scene:  "And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees and the garden."  (Genesis 3:6 -- yes, I'm using a King James translation, because I like the language so much.  I've read the Bible in so many languages, and some may come closer to the original meaning than others, but when I read this translation, well, I felt it put it somewhere in the same league as Shakespeare, so it has remained my favorite over the centuries.)

Yes, this is a comic moment -- imagine it: they heard the VOICE of God walking.  No, they did not hear His feet rustling in the fallen leaves, or His body pushing aside the growths.  They heard His voice, walking.  God is VOICE.  And then those too poor fools were foolish enough to hide, as if one can hide from God, their creator.  He does, after all, know all.  Goes to show that fruit of the tree of knowledge didn't really work, because they would have known that He would know immediately that they ate it, if the were really as smart as God, and they would have just stood there, buck naked, and faced Him, God-to-God.  After all, He was probably naked, too, if He was visible.

But no, they hid.  And He found them.  And He knew, immediately, what they had done.  And God was sad, because, quite frankly, He knew that they were perfect before they ate the fruit.  If they would have just grown and lived in Eden, in their natural state, they would have grown to be Gods, because God made them in His likeness, and gave them the environment that would feed and nourish His children until they grew to be just like Him.

Fundamentally, if we read this book this way, God forbade them to eat of the Tree of Knowledge because He knew that if they did, they would become mutant.  A part of their organism would grow faster than it was supposed to, and that part of their organism was their brain. 

I don't believe God cast humans out of the Garden, as the book of Genesis says.  He didn't have to.  The minute the man and the woman reached for those leaves to cover themselves; the minute they felt shame and guilt, they had left the garden.  So began the era of uncertainty.  Brains mutated.  Other parts of our systems atrophied and withered, as we relied more and more on the activity of the brain, working with the rather superficial perception of the eye.  Those two organs, working hyperactively in concert, created the ability to deceive and be deceived.   To be jealous; to be angry.  To desire what they eye can not see; and to feel that others are hiding things from us.

can we go back to the garden?
I'm not sure this is a question I can answer tonight.  I am very tired.  My mutant mind is old, though it's so full of things to say.  Yes, I do believe the garden is here.  The Garden is Earth.  And the Voice of God still walks in the Garden; we just haven't been listening.

But listening doesn't happen with only our ears.  Seeing doesn't occur through only our eyes.  We have to reawaken our bodies, our earthly avatars, to all their senses, and the first step towards doing that is to recognize that we all are, after all, creatures of the Earth.

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