Whether in childhood or later, many may wonder what their lives would be like under different accidents or circumstances. As a child traveling past houses and shops and neighborhoods, I wondered what it would be like to live there, or there, or over there. Would that as adults we could reflect, when looking at the whole world: “How must it be to live there, or there, or over there, under such conditions?”
To become a successful hermit, paradoxically, we must broaden our empathy and our compassion for the plight of others. By equalizing the humanity of others different from ourselves, we can begin to rid ourselves of those cultural and social characteristics that we inherit without questioning and which later lock us tightly in the embrace of the group, the collectivity. Perhaps the Pharisee’s boast: “Thank you, Lord, for making me what I am … ” should warn us, should prompt our humility, and prepare us for a more compassionate view of the plight of others, if only because it will allow us to make less of ourselves.
The trajectory of life is not predictable. Is the life into which we have invested so much time and energy, now so familiar and comfortable — does it seem inevitable, even sacrosanct? Necessity seems the product of karma or predestination, not something over which we have any ultimate control. We inherit genes and personality and parents and environment, and wonder what degree of change is possible. But the continuity of self makes speculation a dangerous game. Responsibilities and moral parameters have grown with us like extensions of our psyche, but so too have biases and fears and egotistical feelings. We are responsible for what we have become, if not responsible for what we could have or didn’t become. That is the urgency that confronts us, especially we who want the peace and simplicity of the hermit.
For the hermit or solitary, it is not the fine-tuning of the self so much as the disengagement from the world that is the only possible way of refining and changinng for the better. Our encounters with the world are colored by our personality and our predisposed conclusions about people. True enough, as it is true for anybody, solitary or not. But we need not only to disengage from the world but to disengage from our very interactions with the world. The paradox is not to ignore or scoff at the world but to see it for what it is, the vanity, the struggle for power, the hypocrisy. So I mean “world” in the sense of red dust, as defilement, as society and culture. We cannot claim to be solitaries disengaged from daily life in the world but imbibing its culture and products in what we see, hear, read, think, or consume.
The world as nature, as benignity, as simplicity, as identity with the universe, as love — this world is ourselves turned inside out, the universe turned outside inward. Speculate about what it would be like to live here, or there, or over there? We must get to the realization that we already do live “there” and “there” and even over “there.”