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What We’re Missing:The Hermit Mythos

What are we sacrificing for our comfort?

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Imagine, for a moment, this image: An emaciated figure stumbled out of the mountains and approaches the metropolis with a hobbled and jaunty gait. As he approaches, his filthy, overgrown beard and shredded clothing betray him as a vagabond. Townspeople begin to stare as the man’s gleaming eyes reflect a type of wild madness and excitement. He briskly climbs the podium and addresses the crowd of curious onlookers that is now forming, shouting animatedly about prophetic concepts. The people are stunned, and they begin to jitter nervously or openly mock this curious figure.

All of us have heard something similar to this at some point in our lives. This man is an archetype. Usually, he comes from the mountains, preaching maniacally about truths which remain too absurd for the public to accept. The same story appears again and again: Zarathustra, John the Baptist, etc. But why should we care? What bearing does this story have on us?

The wilderness(specifically the mountains) have long been used as a device for describing chaos and the unknown. Something different manifests itself in the solitude of nature, which seems to change people. They become wiser, yet they also become strangely separate from the typical thought patterns and preoccupations of someone living in a city. Henry David Thoreau found this during his interim at Walden Pond. One question that is worth asking yourself, however, is: What are we missing now?

The Hermit on the Mountain by Gustav Dore

Most of us grow up in a relatively sheltered lifestyle, not really having to contend with anything particularly dangerous. We grow soft and unable to define a clear goal or purpose. Our youths waste away, embracing escapism as their modus operandi. People spend their lives in unfulfilling careers, waiting for retirement. Once they retire, they wonder what happened to the years, and why their lives never seemed to start. We become soft and start believing that the world owes us something, yakking on about our rights.

How can we fix this mess? What must we do? One thing that always grounds people is nature. Not simple escapism, nor city parks. Genuinely having to contend with the challenges of survival, and learning what we are capable of as humans. Becoming okay with discomfort, and even relishing it. What would happen if we all learned how to survive, how to navigate, how to hunt, and how to fish? What if we could foster in ourselves and in our youths the self-reliance that makes people antifragile?

The answer to this predicament is that we can. The wisdom gained from solitude and from doing that which is difficult will lend itself to a life well-lived. Go on a hike or a camping trip. See what you are missing. The journey will set you free, if only for a valuable moment that you cannot reconcile wasting on anything else.

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