For Wednesday, May 18, 2016:
“The accomplished hermit stays in the town; the immature hermit hides in the mountain.”
Some decades ago, advice columnist Ann Landers responded to a question about loneliness and being alone with the statement that one does not equal the other. She went on to say (I’m paraphrasing) that if you don’t like yourself enough to be alone with yourself for half an hour, then few others will either.
It makes sense, then, that immature hermits don’t realize they can’t lose themselves in the paucity of company in the mountain. Accomplished hermits know they don’t need to lose themselves in the town.
A familiar stereotypical image of writers, of course, is that we are solitary, reclusive, or eremitic folk. Many may be one or more, but there is a big difference among the three types. We tend to work or live by ourselves, solitary but not necessarily alone – family, neighbors, or colleagues are frequently nearby. On the other hand, a recluse is usually one who removes him/herself from people and doesn’t want to interact with people, sometimes going to great lengths to keep others away.
Mystic hermits such as Dame Julian of Norwich and the Desert Mothers and Fathers actually welcomed company when it came around and were as hospitable as their circumstances allowed. They knew the point of going off alone is not to lose oneself. The point is to find the best of one’s self.
Usually that is done in community, working out and through our difficulties and differences in such a way that benefits both and all parties. At the same time, though, we must work through the darker, uncomfortable parts of ourselves, and often that means taking what I call ‘hermit time’ as we live and work to find those places.
This hermit, for instance, always struggles to reconcile myself to the noises and disruptions of the town – such as the neighbors’ leafblower that whines all day at least once a week for three seasons of the year, and delivery trucks, and loud cars – while, at the same time, I enjoy the people around me. I love getting to know people, about their lives. Just this morning I enjoyed meeting two evangelists who came to the door. We had a good, substantive conversation – so much so, the two women asked if they could come back. I look forward to seeing them again so we can talk some more and I can get to know them better. These are, after all, the instances from which we often glean fodder for our writing.
We don’t need to hide in the mountain for a mountaintop experience. As much of a hermit as I tend to be, some of my own best ‘mountaintops’ have come when I’ve been in the company of others. Other people are where we most often find the Other, which will – when we put in the effort to make it so – lead us to that place of otherness within ourselves that we want to spend time with. Even Ann Landers would want to be with us then.