Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Occasional Hermit: Alone but not Lonely

I have been living alone as a hermit up here in the mountain of Busay for almost 5 weeks. Two days from now, I will be going back to my ordinary life in Davao – teaching theology, doing pastoral work in the parish, giving talks & seminars on Basic Ecclesial Communities, involvement in peace advocacy, human rights and inter-religious dialogue.

I just regret that I will be leaving the hermitage. Time passes by so quickly here. Even if I have been living alone, I never felt lonely. How can one be alone but not feel lonely? Well, first of all, it depends on one’s personality. I am introvert by nature so I get more energized not by being in the midst of a crowd by being alone (parties and meetings can be very draining for me). It also depends on what one does during the period of solitude. In my case, meditate, practice Tai chi, run, bike, read, write, play musical instruments (violin, flute, guitar). On Sundays, I go down to the monastery to have lunch and dinner with the confreres. I maintain occasional contact with friends through e-mail and texting. Being close to nature, my prayer period and celebration of the Eucharist make me aware of God’s presence. So, even if I am alone, I don’t really feel isolated or alienated.

One can be in the midst of a crowd and yet feel lonely. One can live alone yet not feel lonely. So it is not really the physical absence of others that makes one lonely. Loneliness may be caused by lack of friendship and intimacy in one’s life – wither with others or with God. Loneliness may be caused by the awareness that there’s no one who cares about you.

I think the problem with a lot of people is that they don’t know how to be alone. They can’t stand the silence and solitude. They don’t realize that the moments spent in being alone are the moment spent with one’s self and with God. It is in silence and solitude that spiritual and psychological growth can take place, and great works are created (poetry, music, art, literature, philosophy, theology, etc.). Yes, it is true that no man/person is an island – we need others, we need community. But there are moments in our life that we need to be alone. When we fail to do this, our life will be lacking in depth and we can easily burn out.

Of course, one need not be a hermit to enter into moments of silence and solitude. This can be integrated in one’s daily life (at least one hour daily), weekly or monthly (1 day), etc. Spending a longer period like I do may be a luxury, but it is also a necessity.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to live as a hermit, even if for a short time. I will be back next year and the following years as long as I live. Next year, it will be longer since I will be on sabbatical.

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