Practical hermit

Is it easier today to be a solitary in an urban/suburban area than in a rural area or wilderness? Physical isolation, climate, and availability of food, supplies, and transportation have always been challenges for historical hermits. Today’s urban dweller can cope with climate; cost and not access to food, supplies, and transportation is the issue. Ironically, anonymity may be easier in urban/suburban areas than in small towns or rural areas. Perhaps the greatest challenge to the urban hermit is the most important one — losing touch with nature.

Group and solitude

How often is repeated the notion that you can tell everything about a person according to how they act in a group. The modern jargon of team-building, focus groups, and interest communities depends on this psychological model, a replacement of the religious community or guild by the business model of productivity in a workplace. But the pressure to conform when in a group is great. Creativity has no productivity model. The most creative efforts of human beings are the products not of groups but of solitude. The builders of cathedrals were groups of laborers but the solitary who conceived of the cathedral worked alone. I am not thinking of Chartres but the cathedral of our purest being. It is the creative principle in the universe that we, in solitude, allow to emerge and work and create, through us. First there is labor — and dust, anguish, pain — but then, as the debris settles unattached to the cathedral, the cathedral rises to the sky, infinite, clean, unattributable to any hand or mind, not even our own.

Justice IV

States always redefine the meaning of words to fit their ends, especially during war; certainly not just in modern times. The ancient Greek historian Thucydides mentions how the state and the war of his day (the Peloponnesian War) changed radically the meaning of words. “A thoughtless act of aggression was now regarded as courage; to think of the future and wait … cowardice; any idea of moderation was just an attempt to disguise one’s unmanly character …” Similarly, justice has been redefined by states as the rectification of injury and wrongdoing, when in fact nothing is rectified if the entire context of the “wrongdoing” is never addressed. The unhappy motive of such justice is often vengeance, terror, and fear-mongering. Though it is not difficult to notice this historical characteristic of states and institutions, those engaged with them seldom change them. Their complicity lends credence. Only the soliary or the sage can disengage from this process, which is not disengagement from the world but from the values that artificially prop up these institutions.


A little beige butterfly lay on the grass at my feet, feebly moving its wings once in a while. It seemed injured or weak, even dying, I thought — a sad contrast to the big healthy butterflies amongst the flowers. Then the stiff breeze let up a moment. The little butterfly quickly rose into the air and joined the large butterfly amongst the flowers. So. It was the breeze that had buffeted the little butterfly, which instinctively lay low rather than uselessly fight the elements, waiting attentively for its auspicious moment.


The historical problem of transmitting the thought of ancient sages has been that they wrote very little or nothing at all. How to transmit to new generations the nuances and living spirit of not merely ideas but a whole manner of living? Today the problem is compounded. There are abundant sources of information but no particular focus on living itself, which is preempted by increasingly more virulent technology, culture, and economics. No matter how much we may know, our need to survive seems to overtake the life changes we need or want to pursue.

Solitude helps us by simplifying ourselves of the accretions of society and culture. Solitude can give us a glimpse of what our daily lives ought to be, plain and without contrivance. We only need a glimpse, a moment — the famous flash of a lightning strike. Then all our information about ancient wisdom can be absorbable, like the gentle nutrients nourishing a flower.