"A Vast Wilderness"
-in the high desert region-
With all the conflict going on in Iraq, there have been copious amounts of recent news stories and commentaries about that very volatile region of the world. Yesterday I came across one particular article suggesting that one of the problems in the Middle East is that citizens of nations like Iraq, Iran and Syria are living in "fake countries."
At first I thought this was rather harsh and insulting. After all, I sure wouldn't want someone to tell me that I was living in a "fake country;" but the more I read the article, the more I understood the point the author was trying to make.
One hundred years ago, Iraq, Iran and Syria didn't even exist in their present form. At the end of World War I, Britain essentially carved up what was once the Ottoman Empire and imposed artificial borders, parceling out the land, dividing and separating close-knit tribes of nomads who had previously wandered in a vast desert wilderness. So in that sense, these Middle East countries are "fake countries."
This all makes a good deal of sense to me. After all, I live in Southern California - not that long ago this was Mexican territory. Then in the 19th century, as a result of some "wheeling and dealing" along with a battle or two, one day a border line was drawn, protective fences were erected, and now it's the United States on this side and Mexico on the other side.
This morning as I sit in my meditation garden for my time of reflection, I look around me and realize that I am "locked up" within boundaries of fences and walls - all the homes in the neighborhood where I live are enclosed within walls that form inner courtyards and private patios. But 100 years ago none of these walls were here, it was all a vast unmarked wilderness belonging to no one.
Gradually developers came into the region, and they parceled out the land into neat little packages, drawing up artificial borders within which homes were built. So now, I can sit within these walls and believe that I actually "own" this little piece of property carved up from the vast wilderness territory. The walls around me keep me artificially divided and falsely separated from my neighbors on every side.
As I think about it, all borders, walls and fences are artificial - they are human constructs. When we live within artificial borders we are always in a "fake country" - such a powerful lesson for the spiritual journey of every human being.
I call to mind the Buddhist wisdom that there is no such entity as a separated, isolated, individual ego- there is only "inter being." The idea that an individual can be isolated and unrelated to all other beings is a myth and a false illusion because we are all a web of relationship. We can put up walls, erect protective borders, divide ourselves from one another with high barbed-wire fences. We can hide within the protective walls of a narcissistic, self-important ego, but that's all artificial - it's living in a "fake country."
There are no foreigners or foreign lands, no strangers or different others with some on one side and others on the other side of the fence. We are all a tribe of nomads wandering through life together in a vast desert wilderness that no one owns or possesses.
I am reminded of a well-known poem by John Donne, written in the early 17th century. Its language is a bit dated but its sentiments are wise and profound:
No man is an island entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less,
as well as if a promontory were,
as well as if any manner of thy friends or thine own were;
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.