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Breaking Boundaries

21 October 2010 No Comment

Don’t human beings just love dividing the world up? Everywhere you go it seems there are lines drawn to make the world into smaller and smaller pieces. Most of those lines are created by us and are not ‘real’ in the sense they only exist because we decide to make them.

When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people. Frank Borman, Apollo 8

We create borders to divide up land into countries, states, counties, cities, suburbs and even individual plots of land. Many of these boundaries are then physically recreated as fences, walls, trenches, signposts, strips of land or minefields (perfect for keeping the neighbours out!). Sometimes we use the natural, physical construction of the world as boundaries such as rivers, coastlines etc.. but the vast majority are ours and not of the Earth.

And we don’t stop at the physical world. We divide ourselves into groups put boundaries around them and give them grand sounding names. Sometimes we create symbols to represent membership and make up criteria for belonging. Social boundaries determine who belongs to which club, society, religion, association, organisation, ethnic group or nation.

Even at the personal level we create boundaries. We hide out authentic selves behind masks, we keep space between us and everyone else (most of the time) and we lock ourselves into our homes at night.

Why We Do It

I guess there are several reasons we do it.

1.   Protection

I feel safer when I’m on one side of a boundary and you are on the other. The more distrustful I am of you, the safer I feel. No matter how positive my view of humankind I have to be realistic. There are some people out there who can harm me or take things away from me if I don’t protect myself.

2.   Belonging/Identity

If I’m on this side of the boundary together with some other people we can hang out and have conversations about the same things. I get a sense that I’m part of a community. Something bigger.

Ummmmm. That’s about it isn’t it?

Protection and Belonging/Identity are both important basic needs we all have but putting boundaries in place often comes with a high price I’m often not conscious of:

  • Isolation – I’m alone on this side of the divide
  • Stagnation – I’m trapped in the same place
  • Ignorance – I don’t learn from what is on the other side
  • Conflict – the meeting of our boundaries is a place ripe for conflict.

Crossing The Borders

We don’t have to go into space to develop the consciousness and practices that allow us to cross the myriad of borders all around us.

1.   Individual Consciousness

For those who have seen the Earth from space, and for the hundreds and perhaps thousands more who will, the experience most certainly changes your perspective. The things that we share in our world are far more valuable than those which divide us. (Donald Williams, Space Shuttle flight 16 and 31)

Yes, I am a separate and unique individual. I am also not separate and I share many characteristics with those around me. I am alone and not alone. My masks and my distance from others may protect my identity and my physical world but they reinforce my separateness from rather than my connection with others.

For me, individual consciousness is about continually expanding my self awareness, capacity for love and connections with others. At the same time I want to protect myself when there is immediate danger.

Here are some things I try to practice:

  • Open myself to true intimacy with another human being
  • Show my vulnerability by expressing my inner world
  • Invite people into my home and share something of my life
  • Seek out views, ideas and beliefs that contradict my own
  • Travel and meet people on their own ground

2.   Social Consciousness

The first day or so we all pointed to our countries. The third or fourth day we were pointing to our continents. By the fifth day, we were aware of only one Earth. (Sultan bin Salman Al-Saud, Space Shuttle flight 18)

All social groupings, from family, to community to nation are human creations and an attempt to order and make sense of the complexity of humankind. Segregating into groups of people with similar characteristics, backgrounds, beliefs or interests may give me a sense of community but risks missing out on what others have to offer.

For me, social consciousness is about developing my awareness of the interconnections between us, enjoying the support and fun of community and an active curiosity about all other groups.

More things I try to do:

  • Be wary of membership of any ‘exclusive’ group
  • Resist labelling myself as belonging to any social group –or at least resist attachment to the labels
  • Move in and out of social groups
  • Encourage co-operation rather then competition (I think it’s both more fun and more productive)
  • Support those seeking to break down borders between groups of people, whether national, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation or whatever.

3.   Global Consciousness

You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, “Look at that, you son of a bitch.” (Edgar Mitchell, Apollo 14)

We are not above or below the world but are an integral part of it. Of all creatures we have the power to make huge differences to the delicate balance of the ecology of the world. We also understand that our actions have consequences even when we don’t know what they are – and this gives us great responsibility. Our borders and boundaries give us an illusion of permanence. But it is an illusion and we are no more permanent than the dinosaurs or the creatures we have driven to extinction.

For me, global consciousness is about awareness of the amazing complexity and interrelationships between all that is contained on this planet. It’s about taking responsibility for my actions with a view to the world I want to leave for my children to enjoy.

  • Pay attention to my ‘footprint’, carbon or otherwise
  • Consume only what I need
  • Spend time in nature whenever possible
  • Treat all life as sacred and worth taking care of.

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