The vocation of the hermit is often misunderstood.
Hermits do not withdraw from the world because they feel rejected, because they can find nothing better to do than wander in the mountains, or because they are unable to assume their responsibilities.
They make their decision, which may seem extreme, because they have realized that they cannot control their mind and solve the problem of happiness and suffering amidst the endless, futile, and distracting activities of ordinary life.
They are not running away from the world. They distance themselves from it to put it in perspective and better understand how it functions.
They do not flee their fellow men and women, but need time to cultivate an authentic love and compassion that will not be affected by ordinary concerns such as pleasure and displeasure, gain and loss, praise and blame.
Like a musician who practices scales or an athlete who trains the body, they need time, concentration, and constant practice to master the chaos of their mind and penetrate the meaning of life. Then they can put their wisdom to work to help others. Their motto might be: “Transform yourself to better transform the world.”
The chaotic situations of ordinary life make it very difficult to progress in practice and develop inner strength. It is best to concentrate solely on training the mind for as long as is necessary.
The wounded animal hides in the forest to heal its wounds until it is fit to roam again as it pleases.
Our wounds are those of selfishness, malice, attachment, and other mental poisons.
The hermit does not “rot in his cell,” as some have imagined.
Those who have experienced what it is really like will tell you that one matures in one’s hermitage.
For someone who remains in the freshness of mindfulness of the present moment, time does not have the heaviness of days spent in distraction, but the lightness of a life fully savored.
If hermits lose interest in certain ordinary concerns, it is not because their existence has become insipid, but because they choose, among all the possible human activities, those that will truly contribute to the happiness of self and others.
Source: Ricard, Matthieu. On the Path to Enlightenment: Heart Advice from the Great Tibetan Masters. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 2013.