Thursday, March 22, 2012

the hermit is nothing but a failure (solitude)

"The true solitary is not called to an illusion, to the contemplation of himself as solitary.  He is called to the nakedness and hunger of a more primitive and honest condition.  The condition of a stranger (xeniteia) and a wanderer on the face of the earth, who has been called out of what was familiar to him in order to seek strangely and painfully after he knows not what ...

"In the eyes of our conformist society, the hermit is nothing but a failure.  He has to be a failure - we have absolutely no use for him, no place for him.  He is outside all our projects, plans, assemblies, movements.  We can countenance him as long as he remains only a fiction, or a dream.  As soon as he become real, we are revolted by his insignificance, his poverty, his shabbiness, his total lack of status.  Even those who consider themselves contemplatives, often cherish a secret contempt for the solitary.  For in the contemplative life of the hermit there is none of that noble security, that intelligent depth, that artistic finesse which the more academic contemplative seeks in his sedate respectability."

-- Thomas Merton, Notes for a Philosophy of Solitude, in the book Disputed Questions (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1960) pp. 198-199


  1. Authentically contemplative hermits absolutely play a vital role in society--as "place-holders," holding The Field / envisioning a Positive world to help bring it into manifestation.

  2. Hi Pat - nice to see you here. It's reassuring to know that we all have our parts to play, and are necessary - even the nobodies!

  3. Although hermits, from the point of view of society, live in the margins, so to speak - they have this important function to play: they keep the rumor of the Sacred and the Divine alive in our society.

    Besides, words like "success" or "failure" are swallowed up in the hermit's solitude, and don't have any significant meaning for him any more...

  4. Well said, Matt. Thank you. "Success" and "failure" really are words of the ego, don't you think ... those concepts don't make any sense in the realm of a deeper self. What a relief!

  5. What a relief, indeed, Beth! Because in the end, it is this ego that is cause of all human dissatisfaction. With the ego in place, we cannot be our true selves.

    Christianity, as well as other faith traditions, teach us to let go of the ego.

    For instance, I guess, this is the point of the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path. The Buddha's teaching can be summed up in one sentence: "Life sucks, but you can do something about it," that is, follow the Noble Eightfold Path - to free ourselves from the morass of suffering caused by the ego.

    In Christianity it can be summed up by these words of Jesus: "He who loses his life will keep it."

    But let's remember the teaching is not as stark as it sounds. The effort and even the renunciation implied in this teaching is but one side of the picture. There is the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price. To find these the suffering is worthwhile...


Lax photography

Robert Lax (1915-2000), Untitled, 1970s; black and white photograph, 11 x 17 inches; Robert Lax Archives. St. Bonaventure University ...