It seems like every day, there is a new uncertainty or conflict that we have to mediate, manage, and move on from. I find in myself a constant struggle over everything from scheduling (do I answer this email now, or leave it? ……definitely better to leave it) to the orientation of my life. Lately, I have had a feeling of discomfort because I’m living in a stereotypical situation and fulfilling all my gender roles nicely.
My partner is working as at a job heavy in physical labor, and I’m doing – what? – sitting at home emotionally blogging, emotionally cleaning, and socializing. Someone please smoother me with a pillow if it gets any more domestic, gender-stereotyped, and quaintly adorable. I was supposed to be like edgy Anna Pigeon of Nevada Barr’s novels, solving crimes and kicking ass in national parks; or Kinsey Millhone of Sue Grafton fame, also solving crimes and disregarding beauty for physical fitness and strength. Where’s the adventure? Where’s the danger? Where are the personal growth opportunities leading to deep introspection and reflection?
In my earliest childhood diaries, I expressed the desire to ‘run away to the jungle’ or ‘hide away in the woods’ for reflection. I still have these deep urges, and not a day goes by that doesn’t involve me reflecting on this knee-jerk urge to be totally alone and away from humanity. Consequently, modern day hermits are a great source of inspiration to me. Adam Lusher held a series of several interviews with modern day hermits living in the ‘wilds’ of Britain in his 2012 article here.
While these hermits still struggle with the requirements of the modern age – they still have to pay taxes, work small jobs, shop for groceries, occasionally blog, have affairs, and live in some level of sanitation and comfort – they are silent, a skill which our modern culture has forgotten. They are often seeking something spiritual or transcendental in nature:
Some, like Whiteaker, will be enjoying the monastic life, but alone, rather than in a community of monks or nuns. As they would in a monastery, they will follow a fixed “rule of life”, sticking to a timetable (horarium) that can trace its roots to early Christianity. Hermits such as these will often describe themselves as following the eremitic life, distinguishing themselves from “solitaries”, who follow a less regulated path, and who might not necessarily subscribe to any defined religion. Solitaries will, however, invariably be seeking the spiritual, although as one put it, “It’s rather more experimental. I make it up as I go along. I don’t know what will happen next” (Lusher, Sept. 19th, 2012).
The hermit tradition has endured for millennia in Eastern culture, and it is believed to have begun in Christianity with Anthony the Great in AD 270 (Lusher, Sept. 19th, 2012). Some would argue that the ‘hidden life’ is dying in our modern age, but those who are totally immersed in it believe that it is growing:
“More and more people are turning to this way of life. We don’t become solitary because we’re afraid of the world, but because we want to step aside from that busyness and chaos. We want some silence, to be reflective” (Lusher, Sept. 19th, 2012).
This quote resonates with me. What am I missing of the world, or my earthly experience, by being busy and noisy all the time?
There are certainly many communities in Southwestern Ontario which support people in their quest for silence and peace. The Ignatius Jesuit Centre is located in Guelph and allows for close communication between people and nature; the Buddha’s Light Centre is located in Waterloo and seeks to help those in search of a greater spiritual life; and the Carmelites of St. Joseph take vows of silence to grow closer to God in St. Agatha.
But these groups are just that – they are communities, which will inevitably develop their own little hierarchies, internal conflicts, and dramas. People will sort themselves into order no matter what their life situation (Cultural Anthropology). What, then, does the solitary life offer? How does it change a person? Can a person truly survive alone? Do they, as Lusher hints at, ‘go mad’? And to me, most important – are they truly separate from the daily uncertainties and conflicts that we all face as a part of our modern society?