My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
I’ve written before about the “Hermit Writings of S” and posted his script in its entirety on this site. See here.
In order to bring his writings to a wider audience, I’m going to post extracts from the Hermit Writings according to various themes which he himself used as sub-titles. They’re intended as bite-sized chunks that may be more easily digested. He writes well, argues simply and coherently and with a commonsense that is both engaging and intriguing. Judge for yourself.
Little is know about the man who calls himself S. He may be living, or have lived, in northern Canada, as there are references to the “huge horseshoe landscape curing around James Bay, the pre-Cambrian Great Canadian Shield, vast tangled forests sieved through the lakes and rivers”.
The hermit and the world
There are two sides to the hermit renunciation of the world, though most of the conversation concerns the struggle hermits go through giving it up, or the struggle to find solitude: in short, the dynamics and difficulties in leaving the world. What is not talked about — Shantideva is a notable exception; in one poem he details the fickleness and cruelty even friends are capable of towards hermits — is the all-too common wake-up that we are often reciprocally rejected by the world as well. That we are often considered mad or simple-minded, possessed by daemons or a guilty conscience, social failures and frauds, victims of unrequited love, accidents, war and the competitive world, has been documented.
There can be, we often find, a kind of resentment on the part of the world we have renounced. We can be dreadfully alone because no one wants to see us either. When we meet there is criticism, mockery or the cold shoulder. The very few who may continue an infrequent brief connection, perhaps to bring supplies, probably do so for reasons we’d rather not admit to, such as pity or a sense of responsibility and charity for some one gone clearly over the edge, or a sneaky way of trying to lure or trick us back into the commonplace. Depending on how colourful the hermit is, they may come out of curiosity: an uncommon circus act well worth a few second rate groceries.
We find that unless we can truly love people, whoever they are, our relationship with them will become invariably cynical and painful. On the other hand if we do manage to love them all unconditionally then there will be an inevitable change in their reasons for visiting. Now they expect to be “reimbursed” for their gifts, not with a mere laugh at our expense, but with palatable philosophy and palliative psychology. You can kiss good-bye to our peace and solitude if we give in to this temptation to help others, because before you know it it’ll be we who are screaming for help and howling at the moon in despair.
Either way, positive or negative, nut or saint, there is rarely any good in it for hermits. A few contacts may be required to enable the retreat, but the least contact with people possible is always better. A vow of silence is possibly the safest tactic: we may be obliged to listen but if we do not speak they will tend to leave us alone, and we can keep our heart at peace.
Concerning this perennial problem of “other people” hermits must make every effort to remember, at all times and in all cases, that for hermits other people fall into two categories: the overwhelming majority are ephemeral dream daemons, who, no matter how attractive, will only disturb our samadhi and our solitude; they must be kept at a distance, -physical when possible, emotional always. Regardless of how bound up with them we may formerly have been, no good can ever come from their company, they are lost in the labyrinth and, if given half the chance, they will pull us back in with them.
The other group, extremely few in number, are also ephemeral dream daemons but they act as emissaries for our guardian angels. They serve a very practical purpose for hermits by enabling the hermitage and providing necessities, perhaps a buffer to the outside world, occasionally an appropriate text that may be just the insight needed at the time: Vehicles of Divine Synchronicity. Even other hermits fall into this second category. Hence, we ourselves are sometimes in this category for other hermits.
Both of these groups are usually unconscious of the status and function they possess in a hermit’s life, and the same person can at times alternate in both roles. If hermits can show them all kindness without intimacy while keeping a distance and preserving the solitude, they will fare better and more speedily in their aspirations. If not, god help them, many decades can be lost, wasted digging out of the landslide of their fallen hermitage.
Hermits cannot dally with the world. They will incur a heavy debt and pay a heavy fine each time they squander their privileges. We all make this mistake, some more often and more catastrophically than others; sometimes it cannot be avoided, there is a karma to be resolved or a greater destiny to be fulfilled. Nevertheless if we keep this in mind at all times we will avoid the avoidable and reduce the damage of the unavoidable, while harvesting the maximum advantage from our solitude and for our liberation.