Let Your Dreams Take (Shamanic) Flight with ‘Avatar’

UPDATED: April 14, 2022
PUBLISHED: April 14, 2022
Let Your Dreams Take Shamanic Flight with Avater

I’m feeling a little blue this week. Not so much in the emotional sense, though—I’m just really happy to be talking about Avatar with you all.

We’re going to have a great time discussing this film, and I’ll get this out of the way now: If you’re breathing, you’ve probably already seen Avatar. But if you haven’t, you should know we’re not worrying too much about spoilers for this episode. This is a great reminder to go ahead and see the movie if you haven’t already, especially because Avatar 2 is coming out in December.

If you’re wondering about that headline up top, here’s what you need to know: Avatar tells us how to incorporate the shamanic into our lives, and shamanic flight is all about personal growth

Welcome back to SUCCESS Movie Rewind—the movie podcast where the intro hook may be vague, but the lessons you leave with will have you personally developing like you never have before. With that, let’s jump in. 

Mere survival is a self-defeating value.

I won’t leave you hanging on the meaning of “shamanic flight” for any longer. Shamanic journeying is a mental technique of taking a symbolic journey to another world using nothing but your mind, often with the guidance of a therapist or shaman. It’s a way of going somewhere and experiencing something that will change you, deepen your understanding or give you clarity.

Sound a little bit like the journey of Avatar’s main character? Sam Worthington’s Jake Sully has traveled to Pandora in the place of his deceased brother, where he will control an avatar that looks like one of the Na’vi, who are native to the planet.

Each time Jake puts on the headset and controls his avatar, he goes on a shamanic flight and learns something new about Pandora. Pretty cool stuff.

But that’s not our first takeaway, exactly. Our first takeaway begins when Jake and the other humans who have come to the planet are being briefed by their commander (Stephen Lang). He’s a rough-around-the-edges drill instructor sort of guy, and he’s laying out the strict rules for survival on this new planet.

To boil down what’s said in this scene, the human visitors to Pandora have been told to treat this world as an “other” in order to survive. Fear of the unknown immediately leaves them feeling like they’re in hostile territory with few options if they hope to make it home.

As we see later, the first human character to break the rules the military commander lays out is the only human character to find his true self. That’s why I say mere survival is a self-defeating value.

Whatever your “hostile” planet is, whatever your version of a safety briefing told you to do, you need to remember that if you’re only trying to survive, you’re not going to actualize your true self. Your entrepreneurial goals aren’t about survival; they’re about wanting—and finding and achieving—something more. To do that, you’re going to need to embrace some risk.

You’ve got to be to see.

You knew this day was coming. I have not one, but two rhyming takeaways for you. It had to happen.

Here’s the first one: You’ve got to be to see. You’ve got to be still, be in the moment, be quiet, be one with the universe—whatever version of that you have in your most meditative moments, you’ve got to embrace it if you want to see beyond the external world and where you are now.

How does that come from Avatar? It happens when Jake (in avatar form) has to spend the night in the wilderness, and he is rescued by his eventual love interest, Ney’tiri. She basically calls him ignorant and says he can’t “see.” When Jake asks her to teach him to see, she says, “No one can teach you to see.”

She’s right—no one can teach you to see. Only you can do that, and you have to be to learn to see. Jake does that by being one with the breathtaking nature of Pandora, being quiet and learning about an incredible new world.

For you, that will involve a lot less glow-in-the-dark flora and a lot more aligning your external actions and desires with your internal self. To understand your inner life, you have to look inward during the quiet moments. Only then will you see what you truly want out of your life.

You’ve got to die before you can fly.

Here’s the second rhyming takeaway from Avatar: You’ve got to die before you can fly. I want to be clear about something here: I do not mean literal death. I mean something more like ego death. I mean you have to let go of certain aspects of yourself that are getting in your own way before you can take shamanic flight and really learn or achieve.

The way you build something bigger than yourself is by letting those rules about safety and self-preservation you’ve learned die. In Avatar, we see the colonel character do the exact opposite of that and—spoiler alert—it’s why he fails. 

He fails to see that the force of Na’vi amassing for the final battle could be addressed with something other than a violent preemptive attack. He fails to let his defenses down and does not see the better, more enlightening, alternative approach. Our protagonist, Jake, does see it though, and that’s why he’s the story’s hero.

In your personal and professional life, you probably have more ritualized habits and circular patterns built to protect you from what you perceive as harm than you realize. And while you may not realize it right now, they may be holding you back from the next phase—the one where you achieve a long-term goal, build a business or launch a podcast—whatever your goal, it applies. 

Before you can get there, you’ve got to let your old self die. You have to be reborn, and then you can really fly.

Next week: An episode 65 million years in the making

That’s it for Avatar, folks. There’s a lot more to learn from this movie, but those are the personal development lessons your neighborhood shaman would want you to learn.

Next week, we’re sticking with the theme of blockbuster, big-budget, sci-fi movies. It’s an episode of SUCCESS Movie Rewind that’s 65 million years in the making—it’s the one where we talk about Jurassic Park, of course. See you there.

Alex Stevens

Alex Stevens invented motivational media criticism and reinvents the genre every week on SUCCESS Movie Rewind. Alex is also a lawyer, creative consultant, and artist, sometimes all at once. Alex lives with his family in Dallas, Texas.