“Spirituality and Cartoons: Can It Be?” by T. Hasan Johnson, Ph.D.

how-to-open-ur-chakras-avatar-aangRecently, I spent a holiday weekend watching, quite by accident at first, the complete series of the Nickelodeon-based cartoon Avatar: The Last Airbender. I must admit I was taken aback at the degree of spiritual symbolism involved, but I truly fell out of my seat when they started to define the seven major chakras and how to perceive them! In the thirty minutes of one episode (actually about 15 minutes if you focus on the part of the story where the chakras are concerned), they describe chakras as “pools of swirling energy in the body that can be blocked by emotional ‘gunk.’” This was, of course, accompanied by a visual of a bubbling brook that flows into seven pools of water (each of which was blocked by moss, and after having them removed they flow smoothly). They then took the Avatar through an initiation where he experienced all seven sequentially.

The first chakra, earth, located in the lower spine is said to be concerned with “survival” and is blocked by fear, so “have courage.” The second, “water,” located in the lower regions, is associated with pleasure and is blocked by guilt, so “forgive yourself.” The third, “fire,” located in the stomach is concerned with willpower and is blocked by shame, so “accept yourself as you are and find balance.” The fourth, “heart,” is concerned with love and is blocked by grief, so “allow love to be, wherever/however that may be.” The fifth, “sound,” is associated with the throat and is concerned with truth and is blocked by the lies we tell ourselves, so “be truth.” The sixth is “light,” found in the forehead (or third eye), is blocked by the illusion of separation and deals with the insight that everything is connected, “know that nothing is separated from you.” The seventh, “thought,” is found in the crown of the head and deals with cosmic energy and high consciousness and is blocked by earthly attachment, so “to achieve your highest self, leave attachments behind.” At this point, the Avatar finds himself floating in space and meeting his cosmic self, a glowing shadow of light with light for eyes. But instead of doing what he’s told, he chooses his attachments and ends his initiation–for that moment.

15 minutes. I experienced one of the most profound spiritual lessons about divine consciousness in a child’s cartoon that transcended any lesson I had ever heard in any church or mosque—in 15 minutes. I sat there in my chair, in a stupor, blown away.

I found it interesting that this was something you could find in popular culture—on TV no less! I hadn’t felt this enlivened by a show since first watching The Matrix! And yet, whenever I’ve gone to church, I never felt that there. I never felt it in any religious space I’ve been in, and I thought something was wrong with me because I never felt what it seemed others felt in those spaces (I can’t help but wonder how many people’s spiritual growth has been stifled because it didn’t fit into what was considered and acceptable experience). But I felt it nevertheless, and I couldn’t put into words the weight and breadth of the truth that I experienced. This made me wonder why such experiences are not more a part of the lexicon of Black spiritual remembrances (at least in media). When I think of Black worship practices on TV, I find that the dominant modes of expression are always limited to attending a Christian church. I couldn’t help but feel that two things have happened: our representation in media does not show the wide range of practices and approaches to spirituality in Black communities, and popular culture has further reinforced that church and blackness are synonymous, and to practice anything else puts you outside of acceptable notions of what it means to be Black.

I think this is just one reason we must push beyond the familiarity of our spiritual comfortability and ask new questions; or risk continuing to produce the same types of religious alienation, route dogma, and rampant Christonormativity that exists in many African American contexts. Strangely enough, it has become synonymous with American notions of blackness that you be Christian. So much so that people often walk up and ask what church you go to…and if you’re not a Christian, many assume that you must be an atheist, because the notion that you may have a non-traditional approach is not often considered (despite that globally speaking, more people of African descent practice Islam than anything else—albeit an Islam influenced by African cultural themes). Many forget that our spiritual worldviews need not all be limited to any religious form, let alone a past colonial impositions, and that the human experience’s only limitations are the ones we impose, so there’s no reason to limit our spiritual imagination to Western and Arab structures.* Furthermore, the use of European notions of Christendom (including images of Christ) are still being used to shape aesthetic, behavioral, and imaginative practices, despite that they have nothing to do with the advent of the religion.**

Ultimately, I try to urge people to engage what the rapper Common described when he said that he “choreographed seven steps to heaven,” in the song “Respiration,” Black Star (1998). Similar to the seven chakratic stages listed above, he refers to the path to divinity. The paths are not quite as important as the destination, as anything can be used to reach it, so feel free to employ your own experiences and imagination in the service of reaching your divine state, and let no one convince you that you can’t become one with the Most High unless you follow them. BE THE DIVINE, don’t ask someone else to take you to it. Ashe.

*To be clear, I understand that appropriated structures can still have meaning, so it’s not simply that they are European and Arab-based that I suggest that people move outside of them—and I also acknowledge that tradition has value—but rather that to prevent from creating route and empty practices, new approaches to spirituality can be a refreshing means of reintroducing ourselves to the reality of spirit.

** Here, the imagination is not often considered a viable part of the spiritual experience. In fact, we often sacrifice it in an attempt to fit in and become “mature.” For example, I have a few old acquaintances that, in order to “grow up” and be seen as “respectable,” find religion within the confines of Christianity (more so than any other religion) once they hit 30. Once here, the outlook on other religions, especially newer ones, are dismissed and looked down on, suggesting that only if a religion has been around a few thousand years should it be seen as viable (but non-European practices that go back further than Christianity are also dismissed, such as in the case of Kemetic practices).

~ by Lord Amaru on February 19, 2009.

5 Responses to ““Spirituality and Cartoons: Can It Be?” by T. Hasan Johnson, Ph.D.”

  1. 1. you stole my song (which isn’t playing…check it)
    2. great post. is the cartoon on youtube? you should post it.
    3. now this makes me feel like i need to post a new blog.

  2. I really enjoyed that blog…sorry I didn’t read it sooner. Now, I must go and think on it!

  3. i am lily of the field.

    in the auspicious words of someone who recently responded to something i wrote, “WOWWWW!” your words are such a joy to read because we think alike and it is always good to encounter a like minded individual. we feel less alone. i too had vague feelings of “not getting it” or not fitting in when going to church yet i wanted to belong to a community, i just got absolutely nothing out of going to the Lily Pearl Circle #5 meetings. Historically, the black church is what has sustained our community through very hard times, so will always pay homage to this part of our culture. yet in terms of practical applications of esoteric and metaphysical spiritual practices to everyday life, the church traditionally misses the mark and buries its proverbial head in the sands of dogma and fear based thinking. i asked someone close to me once how she reconciles being a graduate with a b.a. degree in chemistry to the fundamentalist teachings of her church, esp. in regard to the creation myth (i did not say “myth” to her) with her scientific background, and her response was, “because that is what the Bible says.” i had no more words, for that is where she is comfortable and that is where she wants to stay. to see shows like the avatar bring highly esoteric information in the form of a popular and highly entertaining cartoon is an amazing shortcut for the young and the old alike to get to the point, get to the truth, and get on with spiritual evolution. i love the avatar. they are supposed to be making a feature length live action movie soon on the premise of the show. exciting times. now what i want to inspire in you is to go forward with your own animation dreams. your artwork is divine and very much needed to give a more wholistic vibe to the industry with which so much of our young people and old people occupy their minds.

    i will return


  4. quite informative. In due time, I will share some information, I like the blog.

  5. Very nice. Smooth read on two of my favorite things. Spirituality and cartoons. Heaven…

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