Can Anyone Embrace Solitude?
Hermits themselves are torn on the issue.
“Solitude is not like protein,” said Heidi Haverkamp, a Raven’s Bread subscriber and the author of “Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections With Saints, Hermits, Prophets, and Rebels,” who describes herself as a part-time solitary. “Some people find what I get from solitude in music or in exercise, just different ways that they access the transcendent.”
Several people pointed out that solitude for them is more a tool than simply a comfortable loneliness. “Solitude is a means,” said John Backman, a writer and “quasi-hermit” who affiliates with both Zen Buddhism and Christianity. “It is a means to draw closer to, immerse oneself in, that or who which is larger than we are, to immerse ourselves in Spirit, as it were.”
But the Fredettes and other hermits believe that anyone could benefit from incorporating some eremitic fundamentals — such as being rooted in place, practicing austerity and committing to a daily schedule that prioritizes prayer or meditation — to help them make sense of their isolation into their lives, regardless of personality type, religiosity, or life circumstances.
For people with little to no background in hermit spirituality, the pandemic has proved the ideal entryway. Karthik Kotturu, 27, of Gurugram, India, who described himself as spiritual but not religious, said that after an initial rocky adjustment to lockdown life, he found solace in the teachings of Zen Buddhism.
“The pandemic made me realize how afraid I was of being alone,” he wrote in an email. Discovering the Zen idea of detaching from the world — in the words of the Tao, eliminating both “longing and aversion” — helped him to shift his perspective. “Once I started seeing what I already had, my desires to seek something from outside started decreasing.”