In the 2009 epic sci-fi movie Avatar, there is a species of tall, blue humanoids called Na’vi living on the planet Pandora. The Na’vi are quintessential animists in that they worship the planetary goddess Eywa whose body is Pandora’s biomass, including the Na’vi themselves. The mind and heart of Eywa are embodied in the planet’s biological ‘nervous system’: the dense web of biotic and ecoic interconnectivity linking all the planet’s life species together.
The Na’vi and certain other Pandoran species are gifted with Tsahaylu: the special anatomy and ability to directly plug into Eywa’s ‘interweb’ at will. Along with other feline traits, the Na’vi have long tails, and these are tipped with a tuft of highly sentient tendrils. When these tendrils are touched with those of another Na’vi, or with any plant or animal also capable of Tsahaylu, the tendrils merge and fuse, creating an intimate connection. Through this connection – much like a copulation – the two beings share an intimate inner reality, some of it unconscious and some of it conscious. Tsahaylu can also be achieved directly with Eywa by tapping into the Sacred Tree, which is the densest nexus of her presence on Pandora.
The two times I’ve watched Avatar, I’ve been enthralled. Not only is it visually stunning and deliciously sensuous, but it evokes a latent, primal knowing about the nature of Life on our planet Earth. The film provides an opportunity to experience what it might be like to visit Earth for the first time. Bizarre and beautiful beings abound on Pandora’s surface. Her geological features, like the floating mountains, delight the imagination. The colors, the sounds, the tastes, and the smells offer up a sensory smorgasbord. As awesome as Pandora is, however, Earth is no less rapturous! This planet we live on serves up an endless feast of delights (along with an endless litany of horrors, ha ha). Avatar invites the viewer into a rekindled wonder over being a conscious being in embodiment on a planet like Earth.
Our trouble here on Earth is that we have a tendency to grow too accustomed to and bored with embodied life. We become dulled in our senses and forget what a miracle it is that we exist at all, and that our existence is such that it is: bizarre and beautiful. (One thing I like to do to combat this dulling tendency is turn my head sideways or upside-down to view a natural scene. Doing so interrupts my habituated patterns of perception. I did this once on the shore of Lake Victoria in Uganda and had a marvelous experience of feeling in my body like I was on a planet I had never explored before. And just two days ago, on the Atlantic coast of Florida, I did it again and had a similar shift in perspective. Try it sometime!)
Through its depiction of Tsahaylu, Avatar presents the viewer with a rather stark and unadorned image of the interconnectedness of our own, real cosmos. The linking of tail tendrils may at first strike one as weird or grotesque – it may even evoke some sense of shame or embarrassment at its naked intimacy – but it is nothing beyond the possibility of something in our world. On the contrary, our real world is replete with – and moreover constituted by – avenues of intimate connection. The beauty and gift of Avatar for us as humans is the way it creates a mirror for us to see our own nature reflected back to us. The world of Pandora is just different enough from ours to trick our habituated ways of seeing things and just similar enough to give us new eyes to see ourselves and our planet.
For we too have been given Tsahaylu.
We don’t have to touch tails to be in Tsahaylu (though it’s not lost on me that the word penis in Latin also meant ‘tail’ – let’s not go there just now…). We are made of it. You and I are quite literally made of connection and interconnectivity. Our embodies (sic) are intricately dense networks of intimate connection and acts of communication between subatomic particles, atoms, elements, compounds, organelles, cells, tissues, and numerous physiological systems. All of our fives senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste give us rich information about how we are connecting with the bodies in our vicinity, be they the bodies of air and water, of food and drink, of pets, of tools or toys, of friends, family, lovers, enemies, etc. All our anatomy, from our sense organs, to our appendages and digits, to our genitals, are carefully crafted to make connection with ourselves and other bodies in our environment. Inside our bodies, our circulatory, respiratory, endocrine, and nervous systems connect the parts of our physical interiors and circulate vital resources of energy and information among them. Our hearts and guts respond to the invisible currents of energy passing through our internal and external environments. Our minds – a world of their own – coordinate all these signals and enable us to co-create worlds with other sentient beings. Our social bodies are comprised of connections and communications between persons, between groups, and the ever-growing number of technological systems we use to enhance them. In sum, contact, connection, communication, conversation, and communion (and other con-words with Latin roots) comprise the universe we live in. They are Tsahaylu.
At an ever deeper and more mind-bending level – the quantum level:
Every subatomic particle that makes up every atom in your body is connected to and communicates with every other particle in the entire universe.
But that is not all: not only are we constituted of connection, and ineluctably connected to All That Is, but this ultimate, universal connectivity transcends time and space. The sense of separateness we feel in our experience of space and time is merely a perspective that has arisen in the habit of consciousness we were born into. Quantum physics has demonstrated through experimentation that quantum particles have effects on each other that are instantaneous, no matter how far apart they are in ‘space’. This is because the relationship between these particles is ‘non-local’: that is, their appearance in separate places is a trick played on/by our human consciousness, whereas when our habitual ways of seeing the particles are thwarted, it appears that such particles can affect each other across millions of miles in an instant. Not at the speed of light…but instantaneously. Quantum physics suggests that oneness/unity is the ULTIMATE reality of this universe and that all perceived instances of division, diversity, disconnection, discrepancy, distance (and other dis-words with Latin roots) are merely perspectives arising in our human consciousness and experience. That doesn’t make them any less ‘real’: the are real to us, and so they are real, because we matter.
Maybe internally undifferentiated oneness isn’t all that interesting. Regardless of one’s particular religious belief system, it appears that an Ultimate Unity has self-differentiated itself internally, resulting in our universe. It has created conditions for enough distance, distinction, and diversity to arise to make communication necessary to make possible the communion of parts that feels like coming home. Why? Who knows? Maybe it was bored. Maybe it was lonely. Maybe it was supercharged with creative energy that wanted to be expressed. Whatever the reasons, here we are: beings gifted with the bond of Tsahaylu.