It’s happened before, and maybe a similar entry was made here long ago. I am listening to a quiet piece of music. The music pauses before the next note, and suddenly, startlingly, a bird outside sings the very next note — same octave, same key, same pitch. The music goes on (only a moment has elapsed). The bird flies on. An almost palpable sensation is left in the room.

Is it coincidence? Or is the question left by the incident a conceit or delusion? If everything is caused by something else, then every possible event is bound to occur, isn’t it? Coincidence is then nothing more than the perception or interpretation that something has visibly and verifiably occurred.

I interpret the coincidence as suggestive and perhaps meaningful, but of what? No rationale or reason says that a coincidence must occur when I observe it.

In this case, imagination and intuition delight and thrill in finding not coincidence but convergence, while the dismissive mind is forced into a corner, having to calculate the odds of the event occurring, or at least occurring when I would notice it. Such calculations are beyond me. I settle back to savor the “convergence,” as I will call it, since it was so positive. Convergence is for good things. Only bad things are coincidence. Or bad luck, or fate.

“May you only have convergences!” might be a nice salutation.

More on “virtue”

On the subject of using the word “virtue” (which, Ursula LeGuin notes, has a narrow connotation today; see entry for July 10), a friend of Hermitary suggests the Greek word arete. The word has exactly the same meaning without the negative connotation. We can add that by its very lack of use, arete has retained its clarity of meaning.

The American Heritage Dictionary gives for the second definition of virtue “chastity, especially in a woman” — that was LeGuin’s original objection. The sixth definition is the obsolete “manly courage; valor.” Only definition four captures the sense of arete: “effective force or power.”

The word “moral” (as in the AHD‘s first definition of virtue as “moral excellence and righteousness”) is also problematic, as another friend of Hermitary notes. Ethics is more precise than morals. “Morality” has a religious connotation that many today will want to distinguish from ethics, disdain, or avoid, although the issues involved are just as pressing. Ethics, it may be added, can also have its own connotation of being cerebral or abstract, as in tautologies like “business ethics” or “military ethics.”

Perhaps the only way to deal with “good” and “bad” is to take the advice of the sages to live in such a way that one no longer thinks of one’s actions as good or bad, having transcended the world’s ways. The advice works especially well for solitaries because of the desired disengagement from the world in the first place.

Granted that the complex web of life and society makes us all complicitous in many ethical and moral ways. But the sages nevertheless distinguish the world from themselves and potentially ourselves who listen to them. The world is mired in “good and bad” and will not acknowledge that the words — let alone the meanings — are relevant.

“The Need to be Alone”

In a brief talk to students entitled “The Need to be Alone,” Jiddu Krishnamurti reflected on the impulse not to be alone.

Is it not a very strange thing in this world, where there is so much distraction, entertainment, that almost everyone is a spectator. … There is a constant demand to be amused, to be entertained, to be taken away from ourselves. We are aftraid to be alone. …

Very few of us ever walk in the fields and the woods, just walking quietly and observing things about us and within ourselves.

Krishnamurti reflects on the many forms of distractions: novels, radio, television, cinema, but also disparate things like household duties and our jobs, all taken as chores that function to distract ourselves, to keep us from reflecting, deeply upon what we are and who we are.

Society has created an “enormous structure of professional amusement so prominent a part of what we call civilization.” All of this structure has the purpose of keeping us distracted from asking questions, from probing into meaning and purpose — of te structures themselves and of ourselves. Modern people are made to feel a loneliness and alienation if they are not conforming to these vast structures, if they feel themselves unable to bear even a moment of aloneness.

Yet there is a need to be alone if we are ever to understand anything about ourselves or the things around us.


In the notes to her translation of Lao-tzu, Ursula LeGuin explains why she uses the word “power” for the Chinese character te, which is usually rendered as “virtue.” The old Latin sense of virtus rightly means the inner strength and quality of a thing, the inner character that makes it do well what it does and is.

Today, however, virtue has a different connotation. “Applied obsessively to the virginity or monogamy of women, the word lost its virtue,” says LeGuin. “When used of persons it now almost always has a smirk or a sneer in it. This is a shame.”

Today, the word virtue, and the word integrity, are words with a layer of musty, moralistic dust on them. But a significant amount of meaning is lost in dismissing them and refusing to use and apply them. In the first place, it is impossible to identify morality without some allusion to behavior, after all. Morality can be right up-to-date: war, globalization, environment, state, society — all of these applications beg for strong moral interpretation, a search for the source of strength or quality supposed to lie in a culture. At the personal and individual level, too, where virtue and integrity are usually most applied, morality again is right up-to-date: complicity, consumption, accountability.

Without a speck of antiquarian dust, we ought to pursue the full implications of what life — and our lives — signify. We ought to press ourselves on what we think is our virtue. If we fail to do this, then, as LeGuin says, “it is a shame.”


An objection to eremitism is the saying attributed to Aristotle: “Man is a social animal.” This can mean that human beings are by nature intended to function with other human beings. It can also be taken to mean that all human beings are products of socialization.

Of course, all human beings are socialized. And there is no question that people are most impressionably socialized in their formative years. Psychologists will say that the first five years of life establish a lifelong pattern of behavior for most people. These points are not in dispute, with the corollary proposed by Jungian psychologists that bad patterns from formative years can be ameliorated in more mature years. The wild child is quite rare, though the phenomenon does suggest that socialization makes for the human being and not the other way around.

Most opponents of eremitism see eremitism as unnatural, based on the saying of Aristotle, and probably extrapolating from the beliefs of their own social group. Some opponents go further in arguing that because the solitary is not completely self-sufficient, eremitism is impossible to universalize and is, therefore, built on a false premise.

But hermits and solitaries will never claim (or should not) that their lifestyle can be the norm for everyone. In fact, it cannot be because eremitism or a solitary life is the fruit of a long and complex process, not an ideology or vocation or calling, not even a lifestyle in the way that a career or avocation is. Eremitism may be based on obvious personal predispositions but it is not based on a set of beliefs of the sort that can be universalized. In fact, motives for eremitism are as varied as cultures and belief systems — hence a universal phenomenon as far as human phenomena go.

The most important input into the socialization process and ongoing formation of the mind, actions, behaviors, and beliefs, is society and culture. Psychologists tend to overlook these factors in defining what is normal> Normal, they will say, is first and foremost conformity to social patterns relative to one’s society and culture — a tautology!

Social and cultural factors are deliberately ignored or suppressed by advertising, media, institutions, and authorities when they seek to shape public opinion, making their target audience want to feel that they are making individual and autonomous choices while being encouraged sublliminally to feel part of the crowd.

The solitary is just as vulnerable to the inputs of organizations and authorities because the solitary is the product of socialization like everyone else. This socialization continues whenever we read a newspaper or magazine, listen to radio or watch television, attend a social function, or buy in a chain store. Even if we feel we are now mature and self-sufficient re socialization — doubtful if we must function in the world — we carry within ourselves the input of society and culture. Not just language, food, clothing, music, etc. are taken in and reside in the mind as “preferences” regardless of whether we count ourselves hermits, citizens, or social butterflies. Our very beliefs, habits, values, and attitudes are a product of the society and culture in which we have grown up and matured.

To be a solitary does not automatically remove this social data in our heads or in our souls. To be a solitary and not examine this chatter of sound and thought is to still live in the crowd, to still cheer at their triumphs and vicariously partake of their pleasures. These are the hoots and shouts of the mob, the crowd, the spectators. We have a long way to go in self-examination if society and culture still drag at our heels as we set off into what we think is a solitary and silent place.