An exploration..................

My life is a tree,
Yoke-fellow of the Earth;
By roots too deep for remembrance
To stand against the storm
To fill my place
(But high in the branches of my green tree there is a wild bird singing:
Wind-free are the wings of my bird: She hath no mortal nest)
Karle Wilson Baker

The term eco-hermit seems best to describe what was my way of life for a number of years.
Even now I choose to live, and to spend much time, alone.
But the spirit of community which has developed in my immediate neighbourhood is truly wonderful,
and I am very much a part of this, enjoying the company of neighbours and fellow-gardeners,
many of whom have become dear friends.

To quote the modern writer THOMAS MOORE,
interviewed by Rachel Kohn on THE SPIRIT OF THINGS in March 2003:
" I donít think a community consists in people gathering together because they think alike.
I think the best communities are groups of people who donít think alike, who are individuals and therefore able to really love each other and be together and tolerate each other, and allow each other to go in their own directions. You end up with a real sense of community then. "

In these times, when the one-person household is becoming more and more common, we need to distinguish between Hermits, and those who live alone because they have no choice, or who do so because they prefer their own space, but who have no commitment to the solitary life as a way of living more closely with the Divine.
To people who ask me: "What is a Hermit?" I offer the following very personal exploration. Having myself always been attracted by the solitary life, I have done a fair bit of research and deliberation on the subject over the years.

When looking at the lives of many hermits past and present, and from many differing spiritual traditions, they seem to me to have certain things in common. In addition, I have added italicised personal comments and views, which apply to my particular situation.

To me, "walking my talk" is in itself a form of prayer. Note - prayer is not peculiar to Christianity, but practiced by most traditions, though it may be called something else. As John Seed once said, in an INTERVIEW with Ram Dass: "Unless you save the whole thing (the Earth), you can't save any of the pieces. So any attempt to be saving a little piece here and a little piece there can only be seen as a kind of prayer."
I also do my best to practice what is called
Mindfulness by several traditions.

  • Hermits use such insights as they receive for the benefit of those who seek them out for counsel; but do not necessarily actively promote them, or evangelise.
  • The fact that someone chooses to live differently can be very confrontational to some people. And nothing is less conducive to heart and lifestyle change than being made to feel guilty, or powerless. For this reason, I am usually fairly discreet in conversation and in my outside activities (eg street gardening, recycling, collecting firewood, etc.), using this website to explain what I do and why to those who are interested. Over the many years during which I actively shared my outlook and skills, it became very clear that even those who specifically ask for information can find it hard to accept, let alone implement, if it involves inconvenience, and/or challenges their current worldview.

  • Hermits have to maintain themselves in some way compatible with their eremitical profession. Craft work, research, writing, counselling are ways in which some hermits generate financial support. Others subsist on donations, often of food, or other necesssities, rather than money.

    My material support is an old-age pension, which is in some ways analogous to living on donations. I am materially dependent on others, & therefore attempt to be both grateful & humble. It also means that I am as responsible for the ways in which this money - other people's taxes - is made, as the people who earn it. So I am as responsible for the state of our society as anyone else, and cannot claim any moral high ground or superiority because of my lifestyle.
  • Unlike Anchorites, who seldom, if ever leave their place of habitation, hermits can and do travel when necessary. Anchorites are often reliant upon others to bring them the necessities of life. Hermits have to look after themselves, obtain food and other necessities, and possibly materials for building or manufacturing. They may visit people in some form of ministry e.g. counselling, healing, or spiritual direction, or visit their own spiritual director. Education, or political activity, may also require the hermit to enter the public domain from time to time.
  • The hermit does not isolate him/herself from the genuine needs of neighbours, or the local community, whether practical or social. Indeed, the social conscience needs constant fine-tuning, or the solitary state can easily become a personal indulgence.

    I discovered in January 2000 that in time past, most Hermits were assigned, or voluntarily carried out, some form of public duty, e.g. they were gatekeepers, ferrymen, or caretakers of some kind. So my intuitions were reliable - my regular cleaning and cultivation of the lane where I live is very much in keeping with this tradition.
  • There is a strong eremitical tradition of offering hospitality to the traveller, and especially to the pilgrim. In the past some hermits discouraged casual callers simply by living in distant and inaccessible, sometimes inhospitable, places. Such a course is more difficult to accomplish these days, especially when hermits are obliged, or choose, to live in an urban setting.

    Casual callers are not a problem - my gate is kept locked, but there is a bell, though people who don't know the place often fail to see it. Interestingly, those who have a genuine need usually manage to make contact - they often appear when I am working in the garden or street, or can see them from the window. I have learned to act upon any sudden intuition to go outside.
    Close friends, family members, and neighbours have my
    ex-directory telephone number, and respect my wish to use the phone judiciously.
  • The maintenance of balance is important in the eremitical life. Orthodox religions have spiritual directors, whose task is to assist hermits and religious to evaluate themselves honestly, and not to escape into self-delusion or fantasy. Physical activity, healthy diet, suitable clothing and accomodation, good study habits, a sense of humour, and emotional stability are essential.

    I tended to avoid radio and television until I heard the Dalai Lama say in an interview that he listened to all the world news services each morning so that he would be able to pray specifically for all the current situations. Radio, and the internet, are now the main means by which I keep myself informed. When analog TV transmission ceased I chose not to switch to digital, but to use my old colour TV to watch selected DVDs or video-tapes.
  • The following quotes come from a film called "Freedom or Madness?" shown on COMPASS, an ABC-TV religious programme, in 1998. A number of Australian hermits from a variety of spiritual traditions were interviewed.
    Further information may be had from ALBERT STREET PRODUCTIONS:

    Orthodox traditions maintain that it is not possible to become a hermit unless you have first spent a period of time in a religious order, becoming accustomed to the necessary disciplines, rituals, and theology. Not all belief systems, however, support a worldview in which the boundaries between life-forms are dissolved, and humans are no more important than anything else; in which the divine is reflected and revered by all beings.

    I, and others like me, have gradually developed an idiosyncratic lifestyle through ideological conviction; to show solidarity with the oppressed and exploited earth and all her inhabitants; and through personal experience of the dissolving boundaries between inner and outer worlds, and between ourselves and other life-forms. All of which makes it easier, in fact, imperative to live, or to spend long periods, alone.

    Vows involve a ritual expressing long-term commitment, but although I have, and still do, reflect upon the concept, I have not so far felt it necessary to take such a formal step.
    The traditional Christian vows of
    Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience do interest me because they appear supportive of ecological responsibility. But they seem such a negative and life-denying way of expressing a choice of lifestyle which is privileged, joyful, and immensely satisfying.
    celebration of natural abundance results in a kind of hedonistic frugality which needs little money to support it. This for me replaces the concept of poverty.
    Chastity is often confused with celibacy, but is not at all the same thing. Refraining from sexual activity does not automatically make one chaste.
    I choose to live joyfully, but in ways that
    minimise causing pollution and unnecessary suffering to other life-forms .

    We underestimate damage
    done to the sky
    when we allow words
    to slip away
    into the clouds.

    From Hillside, by Viggo Mortensen

    Obedience is surely not blind submission to the will of another, but about serving the greater good while as far as possible maintaining personal integrity and self-discipline. This requires an ongoing development of one's powers of discernment and the deepening of self-knowledge, for all of which time spent alone is essential. It also demands that you be scrupulously, and therefore often painfully, honest with yourself. And if you are not watchful, self-examination and self-evaluation can easily develop into self-absorbtion.

    In 1989 I decided to move from the country and commit myself to living in Public Housing in an inner city environment. I need constantly to re-affirm that commitment, because the noise, pollution, and worst of all, the spiritual poverty, of our cities increases daily. The majority of the world's people have no choice but to live in over-crowded cities, and cities have become the deserts of the soul. You are often, in fact, more alone in a city than in the countryside or the bush, and if you are senstive, you suffer, and can become extremely vulnerable. So in my own small way, I aspire to a rich life of the soul, lived in relatively uncongenial surroundings, joining my energy with that of many others to restore balance to the Earth.
    When I was allocated a tiny new house with an equally tiny garden, in a suburb close to the river and rich in trees and parklands, in what is among the most beautiful capital cities in the world, I therefore did much soul-searching before accepting it. I regarded it from the first as a sacred trust, and set about creating an earth sanctuary which now visibly affects the surrounding district, and whose energies I offer continually for the healing of the whole Earth.

    "Take Right Action & remain unattached to the results" - Buddhist saying

    "Await, allow, accept, attend"
    (The only "sins" Dame Julian of Norwich, in her Revelations of Divine Love, mentions by name are Impatience and Despair).

    "The master does not seek fulfilment
    Not seeking, not expecting,
    She is present, and can welcome all things."

    Tao te Ching STEPHEN MITCHELL translation.

    Margaret RainbowWeb
    Adelaide May 1998 and since updated several times.
    Latest update May Full Moon 2014.

    The Story of the RainbowWeb

    Some hermits on the web:


    And HERE is the transcript of a recent (2007) radio programme about, and including interviews with, some 21st.century contemplatives.

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