The above picture is Korra. She is the main protagonist in the Nickelodeon series The Legend of Korra. In this photo we see Korra with a glowing light emanating from her eyes and chest, which only happens when Korra is able to access her avatar state. In this animated universe, the avatar state is activated when the Avatar harnesses the collective power and wisdom their previous incarnations. What is the Avatar you ask? Well...let me geek out for almost a page...
The Avatar is a being who has the gift to bend all five elements (e.g. Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Spirit) whilst also holding the responsibility as the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds. The Avatar, similar to the Buddha, is reincarnated after death to continue their mission to bring spiritual enlightenment to those on the earth plane. The Avatar in this animated universe is identified by having them select artifacts owned by the previous Avatars. The Avatar also embodies the shaman archetypal energy as the walker between worlds.
The origin of the Avatar in this universe occurred when the first Avatar fused with Rava, the light spirit, to defend the world from the dark spirit Vaatu. Rava and Vaatu have been locked in battle since the dawn of time to maintain the balance between light and dark. Despite sealing Vaatu in the Tree of Time, the darkness unleashed onto the world overcame the first Avatar. At the moment of his death, the Avatar apologized to Rava for not being able to vanquish the dark. Rava whispered to him "you need not worry for I will be with you for all of your life times." This commitment made by Rava began the reincarnation cycle.
Prior to Korra, this animated universe introduced us to Avatar Aang who was the last of his kind. He had been sealed away in an iceberg for a 100 years before his release. In that time, a war had destroyed his home, his family, and his kind. Aang was the last Airbender. He also had no one to teach him how to be the Avatar as his predecessors had. He was all alone. Aang learned how to be the Avatar by communing with his past lives. By looking deep within himself, he accessed ancient wisdom coded in his very DNA. He was never really alone. The picture below illustrates a scene wherein Aang consults a previous Avatar so that he can solve a profound dilemma for which no answers could be found.
As I watched The Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra as an adult, the stories illustrated beautifully how within each us exists the wisdom born of our previous incarnations. By incarnations, I mean the myriad selves that we have embodied in our current lifetime, not past ones. Within each of us exists the totality of our experiences. Whilst we may not be the same person we were five years ago, or even three days ago, that 'version' of ourselves does not cease to exist, but becomes apart of the ever-unfolding fabric of who we are becoming. Thus, we can draw on the part of ourselves for wisdom, compassion, or warmth.
Like Korra or Aang, our loved ones may not always be able to answer our toughest questions or meet our myriad needs, so we must turn inward to draw on our selves. In Schema Therapy developed by Dr. Jeffery Young, selective re-parenting is a practice used to help people shift their inner parent from one who might have been harmful or absent too the self who is a wise and compassionate adult. The practice generally asks one to choose a point in time, preferably as far back as you can remember, where an important need went unaddressed by a caregiver wherein you superimpose your adult self to intercede on your behalf advocating that your needs be met or by becoming the object of the need. In so doing, you become the inner resource that you longed for to which you can always return to by looking inward. I have used this practice in my clinical work to remarkable affect.
I felt The Last Airbender and the Legend of Korra illustrated the concept of multiple selves and or the esoteric concept of our higher selves brilliantly. In Compassion-Focused Therapy (CFT), when formulating the problem that brings one to therapy, the clinician spends time focusing on the area of self-self relating. During a session with someone who struggles to soothe the pain born of chronic emotional neglect, I shared that in trying to do right by other people through maintaining our relationships, we almost always forget one important relationship...the one we have with ourselves. The relationship with ourselves will always be with us even as our other relationships change or fade away.
Beneath the animation and mysticism, the Avatar universe has brilliant teachings about emotional intelligence. I invite the parents and educators reading this to watch cartoons and to talk with your kiddos about the lessons embedded within them as they may not see them. I firmly believe that you will be giving them, and yourself, a valuable gift.
Our previous incarnations, selves, ancestors, and histories reside in each of us. They hold our strong back, so we can maintain a soft front as to be receptive, learn, and grow.