Why Does It Matter To The Integral Community?
A movie about culture wars, colonisation, spirituality, tribal myths, and a planetary soul among many others, bringing awareness to record breaking eyeballs across the planet.
With this years theme of IEC being Planetary Awakening 2.0, it feels timely to take an integral look at the many meanings of the 4th highest grossing movie of all time, fastest movie to reach $1 Billion and still showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, James Cameron’s Avatar 2: Way of Water.
Let’s explore, and do a spoiler-free break down of relevant aspects of the film, as well as its relations to this years speakers at IEC.
Seeing It With Your Own ‘I’
Even with VR, cinema is our pioneered way to give access to our inner-subjective ‘I’ quadrant to a worthy director. Since everything is available on our at-home streaming services, studio’s started focusing on streaming-first entertainment, it takes more and more to get us back to cinemas.
What are quadrants? One of the dimensions of Wilber’s ambitious Integral Theory, aka the AQAL map. Alongside Quadrants, it’s made up of Structures, States, Lines, Types. Set to articulate, understand all domains of the human condition. The ‘I quadrant, being our individual inner space, alongside ‘IT” the individual external, the ‘ITS’ collective external, and lastly ‘WE’, our collective internal.
That being said, the medium of cinema is the exchange of equally valuable sensations in return for voluntarily giving 3 hours and 15 minutes of our life, sight, hearing. Cameron deeply understands this dynamic of trust, delivers on the promise to give you a multi-sensory experience unlike anything else.
It took 13 years to make the sequel for a reason. He envisioned the story 20+ years ago, and hat to develop motion capture technologies for the first film. The second took it even further with most shots being in water.
As a result, both movies achieved this strange feeling some people, which became Post Avatar Depression Syndrome. A certain type of melancholia caused by the yearning back to the made up world of Pandora. It’s not often to hear such reports of immersion, similar to non-ordinary states of consciousness.
Avatar and Structure Stages
Once in a while, a movie comes out that ripples our cultural fabric. They often achieve it through highlighting the deeper undercurrents of our shared nature. Developmental models like Spiral Dynamics (SDi), and the Integral Model come in handy with their colour coded maps, to see which layers of our shared structures do influential movies tap into. As we eventually transcend and include all of them.
They sometimes capture our movement forward (transcend). Like the 1999’s integral-influenced The Matrix creating the timeless metaphors seeking universal truths, the shift from Amber/SDi Blue to Orange and beyond.
“The Matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy.”Morpheus
Or they articulate a shared need for lower integration (include), like the same year’s Fight Club did for the repressed Red of orderly white-collar men (Amber/SDi Blue).
“It’s Only After We’ve Lost Everything That We’re Free To Do Anything.”The Narrator
Most recently, 2022’s Everything Everywhere All at Once showcasing what transcending and including of the mean Green looks like.
“Of All The Places I Could Be, I Just Want To Be Here With You.”Evelyn
In the case of Avatar, the primary theme is man’s relationship with nature. More precisely the industrial colonialist humans (Orange) against the indigenous tribal race, the Na’vi (Magenta, Red, Amber). We accompany Jake Sully, the human protagonist as he falls in love with the people, culture and values of the Na’vi. While the locals are premodern, Jake’s journey serves as a the arc from modernity back to nature. Like a reverse Jungle Book tale.
This might make an integralist question whether Jake’s journey into the sacred tribal living is a pre-trans fallacy, that is the confusion of pre-conventional with post-conventional stages of development. For instance, both babies and enlightened masters experience oneness, but the latter arrived to it after the experience of conformity and separation.
Let’s take a look at how the major layers of consciousness unfold in the movie:
Magenta (SDi Purple)
The developmental altitude of Magenta roots back to around 50,000 years ago, is associated with the impulsive, tribal, ritualistic magical worldview in our collective development. Individually we usually go through it when we are around 1-3 years old. Our perception of the world before we know how it really works, pre-rational in other words.
In Avatar, the Na’vi race show certain aspects of Magenta through their superstitious relationship to please Pandora’s self regulating omnipresent spirit, Eywa.
Similarly present in their phrase for humans, ‘sky-people’. Jake also picks up the phrase to assimilate, even though he is perfectly aware of the complexity of how they got there.
Developmental studies date Red somewhere after the latest ice age, around 10,000 years ago. Individually growing through it between the ages 3-6. A world of egoic drives, shamanic tales of wilful power, strong heroes, tribal ethics around the bonfire.
These themes play a major role in the Na’vi, with the stories they tell. The strongest leads, the one who tames the mightiest beast. It also plays into the war of the plot. A race for the strongest on the planet of Pandora.
Amber (SDi Blue)
Still thousands of years before printing, Amber deeply related to the significance of the written word. Collectively appearing between 5-3,000 years ago, this structure of development marked the themes for the axial age (today we experience it individually around the ages 6-14). A collective belonging in stable, established beliefs, and traditions to live by. Absolutistic rules and roles that set order.
Also present in the indigenous culture of Pandora, as Jake is learning to fit in the Na’vi. In the sequel, his family is forced to move to an oceanic tribe, inspired by the Maori, assimilate into the “ways of water”. Yet again, new traditions, leaders to respect, new creation myths to learn. Or in Spiral Dynamics terms, our blue protagonists meet a new shade of Blue. Especially Jake’s children who we see struggle fitting in with the local youth.
With the European Enlightenment, Renaissance, and scientific revolution we reentered the age of individual on another level around 500 years ago. Philosophers, scientists began disseminating the atomised, but proven rational, universal truths of Orange. Switching out priests with professors, motivational speakers, and kings with politicians, capitalists. Individually experienced late high school onward, a strive for more, better, and for success.
In Avatar we see the destructive and greedy shadow side of Orange in the operations of RDA, the military-industrial company exploiting Pandora. Jake’s employers at the beginning. The irony of Cameron’s lesson about Orange was also making the highest grossing, “most Orange” movie in history.
Appearing 150 years ago, the Green value system brought equality, ecological awareness, pluralism. Since the advent of pluralistic nature of the online age, even younger generations are experiencing it. The main character who carries Green values, having transcended and included modernity, is Grace the scientist. Her role was guiding Jake‘s awareness into recognising and appreciating Pandora’s human(oid), spiritual and natural resources in the first movie. Her understanding of both human and Na’vi universal truths exemplifies the pluralism of this developmental structure. Due to her, the context for Jake’s seemingly regressive tale from Orange to Magenta, Red and Amber also has Grace’s Green undertone.
“If you want to share this world with them, you need to understand them.”Grace
Even in the sequel, there are situations where the thinking, technologies of Orange come in handy. And there are equally scenes where they are ridiculed by compared to what Pandora‘s natural wisdom has to offer. Cameron and the cast were outspoken during their press run about this intentional ambivalence.
Our individual, collective relationship with modernity, and the systems that created the climate crisis need to be similarly transcended and included. To help us understand this process, Dr Gail Hochachka, one of most prominent integral, trans-disciplinary researchers in the sustainable development, and climate change deals with this question. Her keynote “Finding One’s Own Soul-Centric Climate Action” will help us reframe global “problem” into global “symptom”, how we can help best.
Teal (SDi Yellow), Beyond
Reaching into what’s called 2nd-tier, where each prior structure is transcended, included and embraced holistically, systematically. Eywa, Pandora’s spirit, or the Great Mother seems to be Cameron’s only decoy to express higher realms. “She” is a mixture of Mother Earth with non-western observations of a transcendental order. Picking from oriental philosophies, the Dao, Shiva, one who nurtures, destroys, balances. And one who exists in everything, everyone. Through her Pandora’s animals and people can bond their consciousness and act, think, feel as single entity.
The Na’vi can also bond with sacred sights, where they can access the collective memory of their tribe, deceased loved ones, giving them a vivid conceptual understanding of passing, temporality, as well as the permanent access to those who came before.
Another worthy mention is the greeting of the Na’vi: “I see you”. Which resembles the Sanskrit “Namasté“, vaguely translated to “I recognise the mutual divine in you”, similarly the Mayan “In lak’ech“, which means “You are another me/I am another you”. These greetings can quickly loose meaning in the Yoga studio as people rush between two work-blocks.
Instead of connecting our hair with trees, we humans are left with our good old meditative practices, Burning Man, mind altering workshops to induce equal trance states to embody oneness.
At IEC, will have the a whole range of trance inducing workshops, through music, movement, chanting and others. One such activity will be facilitated by the Director of the Transpersonal Psychotherapy School in Milan, Dr. Pier Luidi Lattuada. It will cover both the theory, practice of transe states, how one can cultivate the felt sense of direct contact with Self.
Balancing Simplicity, Complexity
To reach, entertain such a size, and variety of audiences, one must do more than spectacle. Making something widely accessible is a standalone art form. Whether it’s a restaurant chain, a meditation, a book, an app, a service, a tweet, or in this case, a movie, one must serve our innate need for complexity, and simplicity at the same time.
Weaving complicated themes into a rock solid foundation that cater to our universal nature. Due to the this not-so-easy task, we see businesses, movies, or even branches of philosophy fall short for being too simple, or too complex. Sacrificing one for the other shakes the perennial dance between the two.
Since our meta-theoretical communities such as integral, meta-modernism have a peculiar fondness for complexity, we need people who translate both ends of this spectrum, for example Tom Murray. His presentation at IEC 2023 will be Complexity vs Simplicity in Ego Development, integrating “ascending” and “descending” models of spiritual growth. Mediating these seemingly opposing qualities is a constant journey of our individual and collective evolution.
So expect critiques about Avatar 2’s plot and characters for being overly simple or predictable, while remembering its significance in the making 3 out of the 4 highest grossing films. Cameron’s goal wasn’t to critique the Hegelian dialectic, challenge the idea of Summum bonum, create a comparative review of shadow work approaches.
How do they transfer consciousness from human to avatar? How does the Eywa operate? Is it like the Hindu Atman or the Kabbalistic Adam Kadmon? Plenty of room for complex integral interpretations, the real feat being Avatar’s strive for “simplexity“.
Whether it’s watching a movie together with the planet, going on a hike with friends, joining a circling group, attending an integral conference, we encourage you to look for beautifully crafted alibi’s to join others for a shared experience. Perhaps even feel closer with something bigger.
The IEC Team