I Vant To Be Alone . . .

Hermits, Eremites, Anchorites, or Just Plain Recluses?

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Aran Islands Hermit's Cave, Ireland

I’ve been contemplating hermits. You know, those people, usually men, sometimes women, who go off and live by themselves. (The word hermit comes from the Greek word erēmos, which means desert or uninhabited; hence “desert-dweller”; adjective: “eremitic”; (Wikipedia)).  Hermits have been around since the 3rd century AD, and their associations have traditionally been religious. Originally, Christian hermits would live in huts or caves, called hermitages, in the desert or forest, and they were sought for spiritual advice, which kind of negated the whole solitude concept. (Here in Norfolk, we have a museum called The Hermitage, which has nothing to do with hermits, and that’s always kind of bothered me, but I digress.)

By the Middle Ages, the hermit’s life had changed in that it had become more anchored to the Christian church, thus the term anchorite. Instead of living in forests or deserts, many anchorites were actually walled into mud or brick attachments on the sides of the churches with a window opening into the church so that the anchorite could receive holy communion and another window open to the street to receive donations of food. I suppose that this allowed for more of the life sought by the Christian eremite, which was to be in total praise and devotion to his god.

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Tiger's Den Buddhist Monastery in the Himalayas

Of course, there were and are many kinds of hermits, not just the Christian ascetics. For example, Buddhist monks and nuns seek solitude for meditation, contemplation, and prayer. They prefer to life without the distractions of modern society or sex, and their lives follow a regimen of a simplified diet without meat, drugs, or alcohol. Buddhist monasteries and temples can be found all over the world, with an expected preponderance in China, but also from every place from Queensland, Australia, to Slovenia, to Oregon, to Chile and Bali.

Then there are the hermits who have no religious affiliations, the ones who are hermits simply because they choose to live a reclusive life apart from the rest of society.

When I was about 17, I contemplated becoming a nun. Now, given that I’m not Catholic and was not raised Catholic, you might find this a somewhat interesting declaration. I had a very good male friend in my teens who I may have mentioned before, and he was pretty much my sounding board throughout my teens and college years. We have known each other since the fourth grade, so I trust his judgment, even though he was a Republican for almost forever. So when I made the statement that I thought that I might like to become a nun, his response was to raise an eyebrow and wait.

These were my reasons: Let me preface this by saying that I find the Catholic religion particularly sexist, so I really have a hard time with that part of it, which I know pretty much disqualifies me from the start, but I love the rituals of it: the incense, the candles, the kneeling, the holy water. I wish that they still said the mass in Latin, not that I understand Latin, mind you. I loved the idea of being a nun and not having to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. I mean, bingo, you’re married to god, you have a vocation, your wardrobe is chosen for you, you never have a bad hair day.

Please don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to be flippant. These really were my reasons. I was 17, and I didn’t know what to do with the rest of my life. It had nothing to do with religion. I loved the idea of being cloistered. I had not idea that I might have to teach school children or anything like that. I just wanted to be away from the rest of the world, and I didn’t know how to go about being a hermit, and I wasn’t sure if you could still actually do that, at least not in America. I knew that they still had hermits in England, or at least, I thought that they did.

My friend listened to my reasons, and then very calmly pointed out two main flaws in my plan: First, I wasn’t Catholic. And second, I wasn’t particularly religious or even spiritual at that point in my life. As he said, he thought that I needed to be at least one of those or to at least have some kind of “calling,” as he put it.

I cannot say that I was surprised. Disappointed yes, but surprised, no. It has seemed like a good idea at the time, and one that I revisited from time to time, especially when I was feeling as if I did not want to be of this world, if that makes any sense.

Over the years, I have toyed with the idea of finding a monastery to go to for an extended retreat. I have heard of one that is in the foothills of Virginia somewhere, but I have never actively looked for it. I suppose that I have never given up on the idea of the monastic retreat even if I cannot live the lifestyle full time, which, in reality, I know that I cannot. I mean, I am already pretty much of a hermit already. Since going on disability, I have retreated from the trappings of life by choice, and I cannot say that I miss it all that much.

I miss going to school and learning new concepts and new information on an ongoing basis, but my computer is my lifeline to information, and I am tapped in 24/7. When I cannot sleep, I surf. I watch MSNBC for new political information, and I watch Law & Order, Without a Trace, and CSI for my doses of crime drama. That much hasn’t changed. I still like to eat out once in a while, and I would love an occasional night out for karaoke, but other than that, the world outside my bedroom doesn’t beckon to me in the way that it used to.

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Hermit's Cave Quarry Bank Garden

If we had the money, I would still like to take a trip once a year to a new country just for the experience, but a trip to a mall? Not so much. The movies? I really resent paying $30 for tickets and drinks and popcorn when I can pay $4 on cable in a month. Now a museum? In a heartbeat, but I would need to be in a new city for that. The symphony? I would probably get out of my pajamas for that. But just going out to go out? My hermit tendencies kick in, as do my curmudgeonly feelings about people in crowded stores like Wal Mart and the like.

If I had been around in the Middle Ages, and I believe that I probably was, I think that I would have liked to have been a hermit, probably one who lived in a stick hut in the forest. That sounds about right. And my name would have been something like Leonid of Aghast and I definitely would have been a misanthrope.

I’ll get into the whole idea of reincarnation and my thoughts about past lives and Zen and Karma and getting it right in another posting. But just one parting thought on that one. Why does everyone who believes in reincarnation believe that they were someone great like Napoleon or Marie Antoinette? I mean, why isn’t anyone ever a chambermaid or a stable boy or something like that? Just a thought.

As always, there will be more later. Peace.

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