"Wide Open Spaces"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
This weekend, the world celebrates the collapse of the infamous Berlin Wall 25 years ago. Built at the height of the "Cold War," the wall was constructed to keep Communist East Berlin separated from the corrupting influence of Western culture. Over the years this Wall came to be a symbol of oppression and tyranny. It was fortified with concrete and barbed wire and heavily guarded by armed Border Police. East Berliners who attempted to illegally cross over into the West were shot and killed on the spot.
Then one day it all changed, seemingly overnight. Communism was evolving and the people who lived in East Berlin were no longer willing to submit to the tyranny of being locked in the prison of their own city; and so on November 9, 1989 the gates were opened, the wall came down and within a year there was no trace of it. In fact there was no East separated from the West - It was just Berlin.
Today I have been thinking about that collapse of the Berlin Wall. For all those many years it provided an "illusion" of separateness and division. But the truth is that the border was artificial - in an instant it was torn down revealing that the people of the East and the people of the West were always standing on common ground.
This anniversary when the "wall came tumbling down," has me thinking about borders and fences, gates and walls. In a very real sense all borders are artificial and all walls are illusions.
Today's news is filled with stories about countries like Syria and Lebanon, Iraq and Iran. But 100 years ago these countries didn't even exist. After the first world war, the English and French drew up artificial borders, cutting up, separating and dividing the existing common tribal territory into parcels with names like Syria and Iraq.
I live in Southern California, but less than 200 years ago the place where I now live was Mexico; and then one day new borders were established, fortified borders to be guarded by police, keeping some in and others out. And the place where I live that was once Mexico suddenly turned into California, part of the good old U.S. of A.
I also think about my neighborhood out here in the desert. The houses in which all of us live are quite beautiful, but most of the houses were built in a "Hacienda style" and so they are surrounded by outer walls that create protected inner courtyard patios and gardens. So, l not only live inside the walls of my house, I also live inside a further layer of outside walls. I am surrounded by walls every day.
But all these walls are essentially artificial. They can trick me into thinking that I own this land on which I live and that I am isolated and separated from the people next door. When the truth is that me and my neighbors all live on one common ground and none of us really owns any of it after all.
This "wall" weekend provides me with a holy opportunity to reflect once again on the Buddha's essential teaching that there is no isolated self, the idea of a separated ego is an illusion, a fantasy. No matter how many walls we might build to separate and protect ourselves from others, the fact is that we are all interconnected in a dynamic web of interrelationship.
Walls also remind me about Jesus' core teaching about dying to the false "walled-off" self, and being born into the true self-- recognizing that we "are" all one another and we find our deepest peace when we promote one another's welfare.
Twenty five years ago a wall came tumbling down. Such a powerful icon of what the spiritual journey is all about - always called to tear down walls all along the way.