Lessons From…Avatar: The Last Airbender

I have written about this awesome cartoon previously to some extent. However, I felt that Avatar: The Last Airbender merited its own lesson and post. Frankly, it deserves several novels worth of study and examination, but I’ll leave that for another time. There are three seasons worth of story to mull over, but I will be focusing on the season 2 finale split between “The Guru” and “The Crossroads of Destiny.” As always SPOILERS ahead.

Was not kidding when I said I would start using this for all spoilers.

Was not kidding when I said I would start using this for all spoilers.

These last episodes are the culmination of Team Avatar’s (Aang, the Avatar; Katara, Master Waterbender; Toph, Master Earthbender; Sokka, Master Tactician and Strategist, seriously) plan to stall the dominion and conquest of the Fire Nation (main bad guys of whole series). They managed to bring the Earth King to their side and have a powerful ally against their enemy. Having finally had a much needed victory, the team members decide to separate and deal with their own individual issues. Toph goes to make amends with her family. Katara and Sokka go off to find their father whom they have not seen for some time. Lastly, Aang goes off to see a guru who can help him gain control of his ‘Avatar state’ granting him unimaginable power and abilities.

Ignore the scarred fire guy for now.

Ignore the scarred fire guy for now.

While each member faces obstacles and challenges on their journeys, the focus of this post is on the titular character, Aang. His training happens immediately upon meeting the guru. Unlike his previous lessons toward becoming the Avatar, the guru focuses on the spiritual and mental aspects of being the bridge between the physical and spiritual worlds. As with the bending, the teachings of the guru are based on Eastern traditions and philosophy. He discusses the concepts of chakra and opening pathways to fully express one’s power and internal ability. As well, how emotions and attachments are affected and influenced by these pathways and the effects of opening them fully.

The guru continues to teach and train Aang until they arrive to the final lesson. In order for Aang to be able to freely enter the Avatar state, he must surrender all his Earthly attachments as the Avatar state is a full spiritual manifestation. Of course the problem with this is that Aang has many physical connections he is unwilling to let go of, particularly Katara. In fact, it is partially because of this realization that Aang leaves the guru without fully learning how to wield the Avatar state. It is not until his friends and loved ones are in danger that Aang finally decides to let go of all his attachments and enter the Avatar state to save everyone.

This is the definition of OTP.

This is the definition of OTP.

Further complications arise before the end of the episode and Team Avatar manages to get away though not completely unscathed. However, what stands out to me is that the idea of sacrificing what one holds most dear and literally letting go of the emotional ties we share with others as a necessary and possibly positive thing was discussed in a freaking children’s cartoon on Nickelodeon. This story was told on the network that pays the bills with a humanoid sponge creature. Is that not insane to anyone else?

Even better, there is no clear answer. Aang does not want to surrender his ties to Katara, but he sees no other option to rescue everyone. Yet in a way, it is the very ties he has to surrender that make him perform such a difficult action. As well, the fact that he is almost killed immediately after entering the Avatar state further complicates the question of whether or not he did the right thing.

Which brings us to today’s lesson: Progress, in whatever form you define it, requires sacrifice. In Aang’s case, he had to let go of his love and attachment to reach new heights. Most of us will never be asked to pay such a price. Still if an exchange was required, what would be willing to give up to move forward? Who would we leave behind and forget to get to where we want to be? How much sweat, blood, and tears would we shed on our journey to that summit we strive for?

I genuinely have no answers to those questions because I have not arrived at such a crossroad yet in my life. Still even now I see friendships diverging as we take different paths. Relationships fracturing due to different goals and ideals. Hobbies and activities that I once cherished falling to the wayside as I learn what I really want to accomplish and work toward those desires.

Regardless of your dreams and path, sacrifices will be made and tough choices will lie ahead. If you want to move forward, something will have to be left behind. In some cases, like in Avatar, there will be some way to ensure the best outcome, but in many others your choice will be final and you’ll have to live with the results. So, the question goes from “What are you willing to sacrifice” to “Can you live with the sacrifices you made” which really is the only question that ends up mattering.

Thus endeth today’s lesson.

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