What kind of Hermit are you?

MUSINGS ON A TAOIST WEEKEND IN A BUDDHIST CENTRE 

I dropped out of my regular life for four days this week. My neighbour suggested I go with her to a not-so near Buddhist Centre that she had booked for her and her husband for a weekend workshop in Qi Gong. Her husband would be eternally grateful if I let him off the hook. Being a life-long student I said «sure!». In truth, it may have been more a case of chronic attention deficit rather than eager student syndrome – meaning that I am interested in every energy healing system under the sun, from traditional to new age.  But I am new to Qi Gong, an ancient chinese system of health and longevity, based on Taoist principles and philosophy.

Health and longevity for anyone over 50 is the new bungee jumping. Qi Gong has become widely popular both in and outside of China even though the secret Taoist teachings on which it is based have been repressed in its native land.

I was familiar with this buddhist centre established in the centre of France, having visited it several years earlier. I’d studied some aspects of chinese medicine by way of the meridian system and Taoism through formal study of Yin Yoga, but Qi Gong? Nope.

I would have signed up for a weekend of anything really – except maybe ashtanga yoga or marathon running. And even considering it involved a five hour drive to get there and a five hour drive to get back home. As a rule, going anywhere that requires more than 2 or 3 hours in a vehicle is blackballed in my book.

But I thought I needed a change.

Country life, as it has been since the 19th century if I can trust what I read in the period’s literature, is as it still is today: chock full of social and community events, seasonal rituals as in any agricultural community, and dinner invitations – But I don’t see too many people during the day except clients that make their way to me, mostly via skype.

The buddhist centre was not much changed since the last time I had been there several years earlier; some of the outlying buildings renovated, expanded, painted, but the mood was different. The people there seemed lost. The place was without a director it seems, or a spiritual guide. I asked what times were the meditation sessions and was told that there were none except Sunday morning, 7am to 8am which was part of our programme, and generously offered by our Qi Gong teacher. I was surprised because what is the point of going to a buddhist retreat centre if we can’t join in the meditation with the residents, of which, we were told, numbered approximately 25. But there was something called «rota»  where you contribute a small 45 minutes a day to some work that is supporting the community. That is how I found myself on Saturday morning at 8h25 am (exactly) in the kitchen chopping vegetables under the supervision of the reigning French cook (French nationality not his cooking) and three other roters or whatever we could call ourselves.

I ask myself why a two day weekend in a Buddhist Centre would feel so disruptive to me?

Not disruptive in a bad way, but definitely disruptive. It would have been far less so if it had been a silent retreat! After all, community living is considered an essential part of spiritual practice. Sharing in a spiritual community, residential or not, requires a great number of rules for respecting each other, contributing to the community’s sustainability and sharing the chores.

Perhaps all these brave and earnest souls at the dreary onslought of winter in this buddhist centre in the centre of France were simply experimenting a momentary parenthesis.

I’ve become somewhat of a hermit since I moved to the country a year and a half ago. I have become a hermit, living a quiet and ordered life, but of my making.

A hermit is someone who has made a conscious choice of non-involvement.

Yet my daily life is structured by outer circumstances that I do not strictly control : appointments with clients, animals with needs and antics, the two helpers who come once a week each to clean house and to garden, and of course my love who is like the meditation bell – coming and going regular as clockwork. Even in this relative freedom, I am constantly being interrupted!

I do not choose to be part of any spiritual community or «sangha». And I am happy not having a social role to fulfill that requires me putting on suits and having staff to manage, or to report to any superior. Nor to have the bounty of earning a salary nor the worry of losing a regular pay check.

There is not much to drop out of anymore – I’ve pretty well dropped out of most everything already! Or have I? My life is far from falling apart, or is it? When life falls apart, what do we depend on? Who can we depend on? What can be cultivated that can’t be lost?

According to Taoist thought, there are three kinds of hermits* :

  • There are those who become hermits as a protest against the established government, who would rather starve to death in the wilderness than serve an enemy lord.
  • Then there are those who decide to become hermits because they are weary or disillusioned with the world, such as the famed Taoist Lao-Tzu.
  • Then there are people like Lieh Tzu who become hermits not because of disappointment or as a protest against the establishment. Rather, they are recluses by natural inclination.

*(reference: Lieh Tzu – A Taoist Guide to Practical Living by Eva Wong)

Is it possible to be a hermit by natural inclination?

Or are we all unnatural hermits? Longing for silence, drawn to relationship and community? I for one am sure that the life within a community, as it is in society and in a family, is a spiritual practice. I choose to be on the edge for now. I can’t say if this will be forever but for now it is nourishing. The change I sought by going on a Taoist weekend in a Buddhist Centre was fully found. Nothing like a little disruption to change perspective. I’m going to spend the coming winter months with my meditation cushion, my QI Gong videos, some books, my online business development, and my plans to contemplate the world from the posture of non-involvement. It actually is quite an enticing perspective.

What kind of a hermit are you? What kind of an aspiring hermit are you?

About The Author

Elaine Rudnicki

Elaine is a Yoga Therapist C-IAYT, Certified Life Coach, creator of AWAKE Coaching®, Yoga and Meditation Teacher and MBSR Instructor.