‘There is Nothing in the Desert, And Every Man Needs Nothing’
The actual quote is from ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and it reads, ‘There is nothing in the desert, and no man needs nothing’. It was recently used in the film ‘Prometheus’, from Ridley Scott. It’s a great line and very significant in the film. Where once again we witness the dangers of technology and the humans that create it. Mary Shelley warned of us how our passion for striving to be as powerful over others as God, could lead to our own self-destruction. But we don’t have to read ‘Frankenstein’. All we have to do is look around us every day. Man’s attempt to reach that divine plateau of knowledge, mimicking our own concept of ultimate power we have perceived as God, can be both a blessing and a curse. It is only by our own cautious manipulation of those great powers we have achieved, that we will control our own fate toward advancement or destruction.
Need I remind you of this as you stare at your computer screen? Or dabble with your phone? Or sit complacent for hours in front of your television? What I can remind you of . . . is how every technology is simply a tool. And like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. A hammer or a wrench can build or fix the greatest of challenges, but they can also be used to strike the life of another living being. And a tool is not a human being. We can use tools to improve the lives of other beings. But tools do not have a heart. They do not feel and they do not love. We often use tools to win the love of others; a new car, a new phone, a new toy. But are we giving with the assumption that the work involved to acquire and gift that tool to win someone else’s love, is equivalent to the love we gift as fellow humans? Is the material gift we give, equivalent to the love of our smile, our compassion, or most important, of our time?
Most of us do not live in a desert. We live in a world where the illusion of abundance surrounds us. An abundant illusion so perfectly manipulated, that we feel no remorse when discarding those things we no longer deem valuable. Our abundant world immediately offers a replacement. We can always buy a newer car, a smarter phone, or another plastic container of water; all of them disposable and replaceable. Of course, only if we happen to be lucky enough or wealthy enough to afford them. But where has our disposable existence of material objects led us? It has led us to another illusion. An illusion where we do not have to face what becomes of our disposable resource once we discard them. We are allowed to wear our blinders and walk away from the refuse of our own existence. There was a time when man’s only disposable waste was his own excrements, or the bones left behind after a meal. We were equivalent with all of life around us, because we shared the same requirements, and we left behind the same by-products. We weren’t leaving our discarded by-products strategically buried for future generations. We were simply returning them to the Earth, where they would recycle into the basic elements of the Earth.
We have learned to accept the illusion of abundance, surrounded by all those material possessions that provide us with the comforts we require. And so I journeyed to the desert. And it is here I realized . . . every man needs nothing. Without a relative perspective in our existence, we have no bearing. And without bearing, we have no existence. All of the material possessions in the world cannot provide the necessary direction for existence. This is the lesson Buddha learned from self-depravation. This is how he achieved enlightenment. There are two examples I will provide (although many others exist). The first example is the child born to wealth. Unlike his parent, who may have started with nothing and achieved great wealth, the child has only known wealth. An entire life will be wasted in a pursuit of happiness through material possessions. And although this person may achieve limitless joys in hedonistic exultation, there will always be an inescapable empty hollow within their lives. Without ‘nothing’, ‘something’ is worthless.
The second example is the starving artist. A master of their Art, but impoverished. In their barren material world, they can create masterpieces of painting, music, and literature. They have the perspective of ‘nothingness’. So to them, every meager possession is a possession of wealth. Here again, their life’s fate can move in either of three different directions. They might continue broke and desolate, creating magnificent works of art. And likely die broke and desolate, but a great artist. Or they can achieve wealth, and their lives will take one of two paths. Either they will lose their creative spirits and immerse themselves in their newly found material wealth. Or, if they are wise, they will continue to create art, but maybe not as passionate or inspired as before.
There are countless examples, every day, all around us, of both the wealth born child and the starving artist. And then there are the rest of us, somewhere in-between. Without knowing ‘nothing’, we will find nothing. And without finding nothing and knowing what we have found, we will not ever find anything else. I have found nothing in the desert. And in the desert I have found everything. I can now see that although I have had everything in my life, without finding ‘nothing’ in the desert, I would not know what it was that I had. I would not know what others do not see. And I would not be able to give you ‘nothing’. Knowing that it is the only ‘something’ I could ever give you, that will keep you nurtured and without thirst, in any desert.
“I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams…”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince