Invention of Boundaries
You probably know where your property ends and your neighbor’s property begins. Chances are that there is even a fence that clearly divides the land. If you look around your town, you’ll notice many boundary markings – signs, fences, and shrubs.
We are the only species that have established and enforced such distinct boundaries. Many animals do form some kind of scent barrier for various reasons but that is a far cry from tall, thick cement walls that stretch for miles. We have literally cut the earth into sections that we assign ownership of to individuals, corporations and governments. There are fierce battles, from lawsuits to wars, over ownership rights and some land has change hands many times. Once a land boundary is established one or both sides may invest a lot of money in marking their property. For example, until construction halted in 2010 due to high costs, the U.S. government was building a 700-mile wall along the Mexican border that costed $2.8 million per mile, a total cost of nearly $2 billion! I understand there are many factors that could be discussed for establishing boundaries. I am not trying to spark a political debate or advocate for the destruction of boundaries. What I would like to explore is nature’s approach to boundaries and how boundaries might impact our well-being.
Check out the picture below. Aside from the road, do you notice anything different between the landscapes of each side of the fence? Nature doesn’t acknowledge this boundary. It lives by different rules, namely climate conditions and the availability of resources.
This insight came about during a field exercise this weekend just off a hiking trail at Shanahan Ridge. I selected this spot because of its contrasting landscapes – to the north is the densely-settled community of South Boulder, to the east is the open plains, to the south are rolling hills, and to the west are the Flatiron Mountains. What I found most interesting was how abrupt the trail began – on the north side of the street were hundreds of houses and on the south side of the street were miles of protected ‘nature’. Nature, on the other hand, made a smooth transition from east to west over several miles from open plains to hills spotted with trees to dense mountain forest. It is as if you wouldn’t know change was happening with each step if you couldn’t see in the distance. There was no boundary to be found. Even on the micro level, I discovered a gradual thinning of the field grass to gravel under the shade of the pine tree.
Impact on Our Well-Being
I would like to highlight three related effects I believe boundaries have on our well-being:
- Create a false sense of protection
- Destroy sense of interconnectedness with each other and nature
- Feed into dualistic thinking
Boundaries create a false sense of protection by appearing to keep what we don’t want in, out – whether it be immigrants, trespassers, pollution or animals. In this false sense of protection, we think the problem is solved and begin to loosen our attention. However, we have found that to create a completely solid barrier is often times physically or financially impossible. In our national and state parks, we have found that what occurs upstream or upwind is as important as what happens on the actually land. Even our politicians can open the gate to unwanted visitors (article: Ohio Senate Approves Oil Drilling in State Parks). True protection is when the reasons for creating such abrupt boundaries are confronted and resolved.
Boundaries destroy our sense of interconnectedness with each other and nature by creating a clear line between what is ours and what is theirs. We see our cities as a place for people and our forests as a place for animals – only part of the earth is now seen as Mother Nature. All of our ancestors had quite a different relationship with the earth. They saw themselves as part of the earth and revered the all members of their earth family. In fact, they did not even know another disconnected way of living existed. On of our textbooks, Active Hope, reads that “we come from an unbroken lineage that has survived through five mass extinctions” spanning 3.5 billion years.
Boundaries feed into dualistic thinking by separating the land into categories such as private or public, foreign or domestic and protected or open. By constantly relating to the land in this manner, we are unable to see the essence of its non-dual nature, just as we are unable to honor and celebrate the qualities we share with all humans. Instead, we relate to each other through labels of good/bad, pretty/ugly, nice/mean, smart/dumb or healthy/sick. What our senses take in may be pure, but our mind quickly digests the stimuli through its dualistic belly.
Fate of Boundaries
So what are we to do with our nearly 200 countries, 58 national parks and countless residential properties? Certainly, dissolving ownership is not an option. I believe a start is being aware that we invented boundaries. In other words, by natural law, the boundaries we have created do not hold up. They strongly contrast with the truth of our interconnected world. If we all constantly and deeply hold this to be true, who knows what humility, understanding and collaboration this might bring into resolving border fencing debates, oil drilling rights or neighborhood disputes? Viewing the issues from a space of wholeness, we can experience more empathy for all involved and perhaps we might be more willing to explore and heal the root causes for why we have created such boundaries.