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A hermit is a recluse that lives in isolation from society. The term is derived from the Greek word eremos, for desert or desert-dweller. In Christianity, hermit refers to the 40 years of eremitic life, wandering in the desert, bringing about great change and religious conviction.
A person can be a religious, secular or spiritual hermit. The commonality is that he or she lives a solitary life of seclusion. Most spiritual hermits have withdrawn from society completely whereas many religious hermits live the life of a monk within the confines of a hermitage. In modern times, anyone living outside society is considered a hermit, independent of his or her motivation or goals.
Roman Catholic hermits are referred to as monks. They live in harmony within their monastery, often in silence and focus their efforts on sacred texts and mindful work. Oftentimes their daily activity is in service to all of humanity. Simplicity creates an environment for a life of contemplation, prayer and Gregorian chanting.
Buddhist monks live a similar lifestyle, surrounded by sacred company. They are focused on meditation, contemplation, chanting and recitation of sacred texts. Their daily activity is one of selfless service and devotion.
A hermit seeks out this lifestyle to eliminate the distractions and trappings of society. Simplicity is imperative to embracing the life of a hermit. This includes a simplified diet as well because food can be a distraction to their one-pointed attention.
For the spiritual hermit, or ascetic, he or she lives a total life of seclusion. Preferably, they live in a cave or forest, far from any civilization. This allows the hermit to live in silence, and to focus on the natural flow of creation. This in turn gives him or her an understanding of the purpose and true blessings of life. These hermits live beyond the ego in a state that brings total contentment.
Living as a hermit is following a path of devotion to God, to nature and to ones own inner self. By renouncing all worldly and social concerns, one naturally becomes more in tune with the God or gods of their heart. By renouncing and letting go of all preconceptions and opinions, this lifestyle allows the divine to shine through by progressing forward and clearing the path simultaneously.
An ancient tale from the Tao tells the story of Lao Tsu’s disciple who was sent to his cave to contemplate the Tao. He was told to return to when he understood it. After repeated rejections, the disciple finally came before Lao Tsu and said, “Master, I have exhausted every effort to know the Tao. I give up.” At that moment, Lao Tsu lovingly said, “Ah, now we may begin.”
A hermit can embrace many lifestyle differentiations. The isolation allows the spirit to connect with the divine aspects of life in a way that is difficult for the householder. The source, course and goal of any hermit are to gain spiritual enlightenment.