Sociologists agree that the individual is the unit of society, yet few sparse societies and communities honor this individuality. Some say that you only exist when someone knows of you, thinks of you, In all the other moments, you might as well be lingering in nothingness. This leads to the conclusion that those around us are the ones we exist with, and for. A woman is a mother, a sister, a friend , a daughter, a wife and a hundred other relationships she has crafted in her life. So is a man – a brother, a son, a father and more. And this is fated. A baby comes out of the womb alone, but with the first cry becomes someone’s child, someone’s grandchild, someone’s Godchild; nephew, niece, cousin, and as the child grows, so do the relationships – in depth and in number. And while this is so oddly secure – to have a self devoid of effort, a self dear to others, a self that makes our presence a surety, we still only exist in our relation to others. Will the self, then, have a solid ground to retreat to when these relations prove inadequate? The simplest answer is No. We know this through experience. Self love is self discovery, self confidence is self assurance. Self motivation is the self concrete that drives us. Only, these realisations hit when we lose our footing, when we form a vision of an existence separate from relationships, from society. Thoreau’s Walden is the prime example of living a life beyond these contexts, and so is Sean Penn’s remarkable movie Into The Wild. To leave the part of the world we know in order to discover the part touched by a few is to compose a tangible self that remains undaunted even in the face of the greatest misery; living in the woods, in the wild is to explore the self’s threshold that would otherwise remain unknown.
Is this possible in today’s world, though? In the real world? The strongest argument against the hermit life is not that wild animals could eat you, or there would perhaps be no power supply. It is that humans, by their very nature, are social animals. How can one live without interaction, without company? Together we thrive, and all grand developments, including evolution, have groups and communities and societies as a prerequisite.
But we must remember that by going into the wild, or rather, returning to it, our motive is not to add an extra layer of evolution; we want to shed it. This merging with nature gives way to generational instincts and memories. Through it we meet ourselves again, but now as an individual. As self concrete.
Those who have gone into the wild have not done it without difficulty. The thought may be radical, the transformation is anything but. A permanent residence deep inside the woods requires years of planning, of building and of motivation. There are thousands of things to take care of, a hundred to detach from. And, after all, within this body we are still humans, still confined by worldly boundaries. But a more flexible, temporary retreat is what can solidify this journey. You can call them habitués to the woods practicing worldly reclusion. On-and-off hermits might just have discovered the balanced way to glide themselves into the hermit life. Many attend community retreats where the individual is the cell. others build cabins in the wild and, like turtles in shells, come out when they’re ready. A temporary hermit life is still a hermit life, because hermitage is a state of being, and reclusion merely an aid.
Then we get back into the mundane, but now with the awareness of the mundane being the true magic. Once more we perform our relationships, but now the love pours out not of an empty vessel, but from the Self.
You’ll also like the Van life.