Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hermits and Recluses

What is the difference between a hermit and a recluse? For me a hermit in whatever Tradition goes into solitude either in a rural setting or a city motivated by a plan for living and exploration, thinking and healing, worship or poetry, philosophy and connection with the deeper movements of life. A geographical distance from others is a strategy and not a telos or goal. A hermit is motivated by the desire to become.  A recluse is escaping and turning away from human company, a fugitive from life. Maybe for some who seek solitude either on an occasional or more long lasting basis are conscious of these two voices. Australia despite all the emphasis on participation and mateship always has seemed to leave a place open to those who desired to go bush and in the past eccentricity was prized. I suggest this tolerance is less appreciated today.

How might one frame this question in terms of cultivating silence? A retreat to a quiet place and immersion in a natural sound scape of birdsong and water, the beach or the wind blowing across gum trees, or quiet moment of retreat in a busy city might be considered reclusive if motivated by a resentment of people and noise, an inner anger or a spirit of elitism. One motivated by the eremitic spirit retreats either within to a peaceful inner centre, or to a quiet place out of compassion for herself as neighbour to oneself, or to be refreshed in spirit and body to return again to people.  Those who are live in more extended times of solitude may like Thomas Merton and others feel closer to the world's heartbeat and sorrows than those who are geographically situated close to other people.

As someone who for health and well being requires quiet oasis throughout the day for renewal I am appreciative that often I am able to find those spaces even in crowds and noise and embrace the hermit spirit. Sometimes when I am resentful of noise and of the loudness of contemporary city life its a reminder that this is reclusive behaviour and for my own flourishing I require to seek out a quiet place to breathe and renew.

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