Avatar depression, they're calling it in the British press. You've been transported to this vivid world of beauty and terror, of floating mountains and dragon-riders and faerie-like blue people who are intimately connected to everything in nature - and now you're back in your own grey world fighting your way through the morning traffic to spend the day in a cubie, and you'd like to check out and live with the Na'vi.
The cure for the Avatar blues begins with the story of the film-maker and takes hold when we wake up to the fact that our own blue world is accessible any night, without 3-D glasses and big screens. Visionary director James Cameron is a dreamer, and his great movie breakthroughs begin with dreams. Back in the early 1980s, working in Rome on the editing of a forgettable flick (Piranha II: The Spawning) he dreamed of a robotic skeleton rising from a massive explosion. From the dream vision he wrote a treatment. When it was turned down by studio after studio that did not want to hire an unknown director, he turned the treatment into a full-fledged screenplay, and persisted in knocking on doors until he found a film company that was willing to hire him as director. That robotic skeleton became The Terminator, a great film produced for little money that continues to make plenty.
In the early 1990s, James Cameron dreamed of the world he named Pandora. He wrote a treatment for Avatar in 1995. But the technology for bringing his vision to the screen did not then exist. Fourteen years later, the technology existed to bring a world he had "seen" to screens through which viewers could enter it. Cameron and his team say that Avatar is not just a movie, it's a universe, and having traveled into that world (with my 3-D glasses) I'm willing to say that they are correct.
It's a great universe, and once you have seen the Tree of Souls and the beautiful ritual performed under it, you may well long to be there, with a community connected to each other and the universal Mother as the Na'vi seem to be. However, the world of Avatar - described by some of Cameron's crew as Planet Jim - is not a unique world, not at all. Each of us has direct access to a world of wonder, any night of the year, and we don't need theatre tickets, let alone a multi-million dollar production budget.
How does Jake Scully, the human hero of Avatar enter the world of the Na'vi? He enters an incubation chamber called the Link. It looks somewhat like a padded casket and very much like a bed. When he falls asleep in this sleeping space, he awakens in the long, elegantly muscled body of an "avatar", a term used here to describe a hybrid body that marries human and Na'vi DNA. He can do things in this blue body that humans cannot do; he can even become a "made man" among a different species. When he is awakened in his human body, his avatar body loses consciousness and falls down. For most of the movie, he is two beings. When one sleeps, the other wakes.
Doesn't this sound familiar? When we sleep, a second self awakens in dreams. This second self may occupy a quite different body than the one that is lying in the bed. It may have adventures in other worlds, or in other time periods. With practice, we can learn to maintain continuity of consciousness, so we are aware of both bodies and both realities - and perhaps also maintain a witness perspective, watching over both - through our comings and goings.
James Cameron found his jungle world of blue people in a dream. We discover our own worlds in our own dreams, and some of them are no less thrilling and beautiful. We can learn, as active dreamers, to make return journeys to these worlds, and carry on adventures over years, even a whole lifetime. Since we have purposes to serve in our regular lives, we don't want to become entirely lost (or found) in these alternate worlds, or to succumb to those post-Avatar blues by letting their magic float loose and disconnected from the ordinary world. Let's notice that James Cameron not only dreamed Planet Jim; he brought it through, which required practical vision and perseverance. Let's find our own creative ways to bring some magic from our dream worlds into our day lives.
Taking this on myself, I'm thinking now about how to honor all the dreams I've recorded, over many decades now, in which I am called on, sometimes as a matter of life-and-death, to rouse a sleeping king. While a tremendous battle rages around him, he is torpid. When my dream self merges with his dozing form, he bestirs himself and rallies his people to do what is required. I guess I've just given myself another writing assignment,