I have a wooden bowl from which I eat dry foods, or foods not very wet. Due to ignorance I first neglected the bowl and it cracked a little. Now I know to oil the bowl regularly. Much of the crack is healed, from the inside towards the top, though the tell-tale line, like a scar, remains. The bowl serves faithfully, while quietly reminding me of my own foibles. This is for me an insight into the notion of wabi.
The ditches are full of water from the heavy rains and do not drain much even when the rains stop. Across the surface, waterbugs skim and glide in a straight line that I could not draw. They remind me, though, of the autumn crickets in Chinese and Japanese poetry, unaware that winter is coming. The waterbugs don’t know that eventually the water in the ditches will drain. But, then, we don’t pay much attention to our own winter, to our own little ditches draining, do we? Waterbug, what was your face like before your parents were born? Not quite a koan, but at the moment it seems sufficient.
The solitary or would-be hermit grows emotionally and psychologically by accepting his or her propensity for solitude and reclusion. Such a propensity is based not on introversion, which only needs a good rationale (or excuse) to find itself embracing a solitary life. The introvert must be wary of making eremitism an easy escape from people and the world. (This is why religious orders, east and west, test their would-be hermits with years of spiritual practice.) Our approach to eremitism should be mature in the sense that it develops logically and naturally but also with growing insight. Insight distinguishes the hermit as sage versus the solitary as mere sad misfit. It is always interesting to witness an extroverted person embracing eremitism, or to see a traditional hermit comfortable with visitors from the outside world. But there are dangers to this easy traffic. In the end the hermit is not only alone but embraces solitude because solitude is an insight into the condition of us all. The solitary witnesses to profound realities that the rest of the world misses. The solitary is the unseen flower in the woods or desert, beautiful whether seen or unseen.
The rain falls in torrents. It sounds especially evocative when it hits the metal ladder and stray pails at the rear of the house. Each point of metal evokes a different sound: bass sounds like violas, pitched cadence like lead violins, hollow sounds slightly enriched, like oboes, regular thumps like percussion. But the composition is open to the influence of wind and the physics of water dripping at different rates from the roof and its angles. And the music itself is not reproducible. It only happens once, now, it seems to say, so listen.
Study, for the solitary or would-be hermit, means observing the self, watching the self respond and react in different circumstances. The self becomes an object to observe and to study. But study also refers to the typical pursuit of formal (or informal) study of knowledge, information, history, events, traditions, creative productions. Study can be a useful prerequisite to our chosen eremitical life style. Yes, it sounds like reading and reflecting, but not of the classroom or daily paper variety. In the modern world it is indispensable to learn as much as one can about a body of knowledge or a set of skills. Modern culture intends to overwhelm the individual, to make the individual dependent in thought and heart. Of course, all cultures do this, but the means and methods of technology, institutions, and organizations today seem particularly insidious. To find a congenial and benign setting for learning (and living) will be difficult without a great deal of flexibility and tolerance on one’s part, but also reserve and demurring from the habits and opinions of the world.