I recently read a book by Michael Finkel entitled The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit. The title sounded intriguing to me after growing tired of reading a series of self-help books that were designed to inspire but did little to do so.
The book tells the real-life story of Christopher Knight, who in 1986 left his childhood home in Massachusetts (at the age of 20) and spent the next 27 years living alone as a hermit in the woods of Maine without any human interaction.
After being caught stealing necessary supplies from an unoccupied summer camp, Knight was forced back into the society he abandoned some 27 years prior. Thrust into a world he no longer understood and struggled to reacclimate himself to. “The world is a confusing place, meaningful and meaningless all at once,” said Knight.
While many of us may never fully comprehend how Knight survived as a hermit in seclusion for almost three decades, his conversations with Finkel begin to unearth some of his motives.
Finkel writes, “He was never once bored. He wasn’t sure, he said, that he even understood the concept of boredom. It applied only to people who felt they had to be doing something all the time, which from what he’d observed was most people. Hermits of ancient China had understood that wu wei, “non-doing,” was an essential part of life, and Knight believes there isn’t nearly enough nothing in the world anymore.”
We are a neurotic, worrisome, and anxious society brought on by living a life in continual hyperdrive. We rarely find time for peace and solitude as we bounce here, there, and everywhere in an attempt to fill every last bit of time with something to do – something to prevent us from being self-reflective or worse yet, comfortable with silence.
Finkel goes on to write, “He was confounded by the idea that passing the prime of your life in a cubicle, spending hours a day at a computer, in exchange for money, was considered acceptable, but relaxing in a tent in the woods was disturbed. Observing the trees was indolent; cutting them down was enterprising. What did Knight do for a living? He lived for a living.”
He lived for a living. How many of us can truly say that about our existence?
Knight may have lacked some social etiquettes and even a college degree, but in many ways, he’s a much wiser person than you or I. He recognized our materialistically obsessed culture, how it permeated every fiber of our society starting a frighteningly young age, and determined he wanted no part of such obscurity.
He witnessed how bullies are revered as leaders with a powerful control, while true humanitarians are dismissed as unrealistic.
He tired of the hate, the judgments, the lack of compassion and withdrew into the natural world where who and what he represented – both financially and materialistically – no longer mattered. To anyone – including himself.
The complexities of our current society are burdensome and troubling. There are times I’m only too happy to remain in the confines of my home – a haven from the craziness which sometimes blurs the lines of reality.
While we can’t easily abandon our lives and take on the lifestyle of a hermit, we can learn to stop wasting time by filling our days with meaningless drivel. To slow down and enjoy the life we’re living rather than finding as many ways as possible to try and fill up every hour to avoid listening to ourselves.
Enjoy the boredom of life, the time to sit in nature and listen to the birds singing and the leaves rustling through the trees. Shut out all the inconsequential distractions and find a little more nothing in your day.