I am fortunate enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the United States, the Trinity Alps of far Northern California. There are gorgeous rivers and streams and lakes, mountains, two national forests, a plethora of eagles, hawks, ravens, bears, trout, and salmon. And there are only 13,000 people living in the entire county so you can still actually spend hours walking in the woods or sitting by a river by yourself.
We have thousands of tourists come through every summer and a sizable minority of them are just plain miserable. It’s either too hot or it’s too cold, there aren’t enough cashiers in the grocery store, the ATM wasn’t working, the water in the river is too cold to swim in, it’s too quiet, it’s boring, the internet isn’t fast enough, etc., etc., etc.
It’s kind of sad. These people have spent thousands of dollars to go to a beautiful, tranquil place to get away from their problems for a few weeks and it turns out that the main problem they have is . . . them. They’re just not happy people. And they brought themselves with them.
Like the old cliche’ says, “No matter where you go, there you are.”
The Hermit is about a period of withdrawal from the world. About getting out of the stream of time and events for a while so that you can either figure out or remember who you really are. But, as we can surmise from the unhappy tourists in Trinity County, there’s a little more involved with that than just running away from home.
A researcher named Marsha Sinetar wrote a fascinating book on the subject called, “Ordinary People As Monks and Mystics, Lifestyles For Self-Discovery.” She put ads in several papers across the country seeking out people who had chosen to withdraw from everyday life and based the book on her interviews with them.
Several things become obvious as you read through the book. The first is that these people experienced a massive reordering of what they considered to be valuable (also known as, “their values.”) At some point in their lives they simply decided that the new car, the big house, the fancy computers, the pay raise at the job, and yes, even the marriage to the, “perfect spouse,” and 2.5, “perfect children,” were all bullshit. All of the things that we might ordinarily consider important and satisfying and fun had become unimportant distractions to them.
What BECAME important to them were, oddly, the things that used to be part of the human birthright but which many of us have lost in modern life. Time alone. Time to think. Time to meditate. Being in nature. Reading. Silence. Contemplation.
And – again, oddly – claiming these simple things which used to be free to every human being actually, “cost,” them a fair amount. Most of them had to walk away from the high paying jobs and start doing part time jobs and learn to live on less money and with fewer possessions. They walked away from the social status and from the concept that they were, “important people,” as defined by others and walked toward the concept of being, “important people,” as defined by their own hearts.
Some of them became alienated from their families who refused to accept their new lifestyles. “Why are you living out in the woods with a dog instead of finding a good husband and having kids? What’s wrong with you?”
These are mainly seen as sacrifices by people on the outside looking in, though. To the participants in the study they were very small sacrifices to make for having the luxuries of time and solitude.
“Time, not money, seemed to be the element most coveted for their new life. . . they didn’t have to be financially secure, they just had to FEEL secure . . .”
And that was one of the biggest takeaways for me from this book. Modern life, as most of us know it, is a thief. It steals our TIME and in doing so it steals our ability to think about who we are and why we’re here. In exchange it gives us, “things,” – toys, computers, cars, houses, money – and then it hypnotizes us into thinking that those things are actually us, actually the life that it just stole from us.
The Hermit is about throwing away the trinkets and finding the gold. Taking back your time and your Self and your Soul.