I started this post to explain why I’m going to take a Facebook break and how it was connected to the number 36. Then I ended up having flashbacks about what I wanted to be when I grew up, a hermit. Then I got crazy and added a bunch of hermit related quotes. 🙂 I’ll still be Facebooking on my modern day hermit account. I’ve learned over the years that there is no wrong or right way to be a hermit. It ultimately has to do with a state of mind, not a way of life.
It Started with Mr. Miyagi
It’s funny how much a film can affect you when you’re young. Since it fits my numerological narrative let’s say I saw it for the first time 30 years ago when I was 6.
Reflecting on why I was so interested in that movie is the kind of thing that makes the concept of “spirit” make sense. Purely using what the sciences call nature and nurture doesn’t seem to fully explain it. My brother and I were raised in practically the same environment and we’re only two years apart. If nurture doesn’t fully explain it, then I must have also been genetically predisposed towards things of a martial nature. I suppose the why isn’t important for this post, I’m focusing on the what.
Seeing Mr. Miyagi’s role in the film triggered something within me. I wanted to grow up to become Mr. Miyagi-like. This set me on a path of exploring martial arts, more for the philosophical component than fighting, kicking and punching. It started with karate, switched to kung fu and eventually settled on taiji as it embodied the best martial (defensive), philosophical (daoist) and spiritual path for me to pursue.
I’m racking my brain trying to come up with another profession I was drawn to other than being a kung fu master and hermit. Until high school all I can see is swimming, soccer, and a love for videogames and computers. A lot of threads came together right around my freshman year of high school. I started training kung fu, a copy of the Daodejing “randomly” dropped in my lap which in turn led to visions of becoming a kung fu hermit.
There were a lot of chapters of the Daodejing that affected me growing up, but chapter two immediately springs to mind. Stephen Mitchell’s translation is the first one I read:
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master acts without doing anything and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
Those first two lines blew my mind. There is no good without bad? What?! Most of that book blew my mind. It seemed to speak directly to my nature. The Daodejing helped answer a lot of questions I had at the time. Questions about material pursuits. Questions about suffering in developing countries. Question about how illogical the world was (is).
While everyone was being conditioned to want and pursue more, I was driven to want and pursue less. My feeling, at that time, about the general nature of society and how it’s conditioned can be summed up in an experience I had my junior year of high school.
The school brought in a speaker. I think it was a guy who had “turned his life around” from being a young thug. He must have started making a lot of money from some kind of job and achieved that conditioned success so many pursue. I remember him going around the room asking people what they wanted to do/be when they grew up. The question came to me, I can’t remember if I raised my hand or was asked.
Presenter: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Me: A bum in Hawaii.
The room exploded in laughter. The presenter made some comment about my being a joker and how it wasn’t funny. The thing is, I was dead serious (I’m chuckling reflecting on it now though). I remember being offended. Luckily I had my trusty copy of the Daodejing to explain that situation. Chapter 41:
When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao, he laughs out loud.
If he didn’t laugh, it wouldn’t be the Tao.
Thus it is said: The path into the light seems dark,
the path forward seems to go back,
the direct path seems long,
true power seems weak,
true purity seems tarnished,
true steadfastness seems changeable,
true clarity seems obscure,
the greatest seem unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish.
The Tao is nowhere to be found.
Yet it nourishes and completes all things.
I’ve loved math and obsessed about numbers my whole life. I was always looking for mathematical patterns. I used to constantly write out the Fibonacci sequence. I’d make up my own number sequences based on the Fibonacci sequence (Paynonacci sequence?) Numbers are everywhere and are at the base of everything (language, music, art, etc.)
36 is beautiful for a number of reasons. There are 360 degrees in a circle, 365 days in a year, it’s a square triangle number… on and on and on. 36 came to me as “my” number when I was in the hospital in Taiwan. I had a whole plan scratched out around the number 36. I was going to teach for 36 years, have 36 students…
I don’t think I’ll be sticking to any exact plans around the number 36, but the fun thing about having a number is you start seeing it everywhere, the world speaks to you in a different way, it often makes choices easier (I’m all about less thinking). Sometimes the patterns are uncanny.
For example, yesterday I turned 36, 11+25 (November, 25th, my birthday) = 36, 36 days + November 25th is New Year’s Eve (or New Year’s Day beginning with today). The 25th was also a full moon. Coincidence?! I think not! 😉
36 Years and 36 Days
While I won’t achieve Mr. Miyagi status or hemitary perfection in the next 36 days, I can make great strides. In 36 days, with focus, I can get a “final” version of the Black Horse Tai Chi website up and start Taiji Push Hands dot com. In 36 days, with focus, I can level up my hermit game tremendously (whittle my belongings down to a single backpack). These are two things that have been a lifetime in the making and have, “coincidentally”, come together at the same time.
I should note that I dropped the idea of becoming a mountain top or beach bum hermit when I met Master Wang. He told me “one foot in the city, one foot in nature”. Since then I’ve been trying to master being a modern, balanced, hermit.
I’m going to take a break from my Facebook shenanigans for 36 days to temper my blade of taiji justice and strengthen my shield of hermit wizardry. I’m only taking a shenanigans break though, I’ll be on my hermit account hermiting it up. 🙂
A Bunch of Quotes of Solitude
I was just going to add one. Then I got crazy with it. All of the quotes come from Hermitary.com.
You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.
–Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth, p. 115
Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.
–Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
Our unhappiness arises from one thing only, that we cannot be comfortably alone in our room. … That is why the pleasure of solitude is seen as so incomprehensible.
–Blaise Pascal, Pensees, 9. Diversions
I am a horse for a simple harness, not cut out for tandem or teamwork.
–Albert Einstein, Forum and Century, Living Philosophers
Solitude is as much an intrinsic desire in man as his gregariousness. Hermits, solitary thinkers, independent spirits, recluses, although often stigmatized in the modern world, are healthy expressions of man’s dialogue with himself.
–Clark E. Moustakas, Loneliness and Love
Now and again it is necessary to seclude yourself among deep mountains and hidden valleys to restore your link to the source of life.
–Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido
Spiritual joys come only from solitude,
So the wise choose the bottom of the well,
For the darkness down there beats
The darkness up here.
He who follows at the heels of the world
Never saves his head.
We live, as we dream, — alone.
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness
The city does not take away, neither does the country give, solitude; solitude is within us.
— Joseph Roux (18th century France)
Life is ample for those who keep themselves detached from involvement. None of their time is transferred to others. None is frittered away in this direction and that, none is committed to Fortune, none perishes of neglect, none is squandered in lavishness, none is idle.
–Seneca, On the Brevity of Life, 11
To drift like a dead leaf fallen from the tree and taken up by the wind, knowing not if the wind carries you or if you are carrying the wind …
— Michel Jourdan (French hermit writer)
I am never lonely. A lonely person is one who is not aware of the complete fullness within. When you become dependent on something outside without having awareness of the reality within you, then you will indeed be lonely. The whole search for enlightenment is to seek within, to become aware that you are complete in yourself. You are perfect. You don’t need any externals. No matter what happens in any situation, you need never be lonely.
— Swami Rama, Living with the Himalayan Masters
Renunciation does not mean turning our back on the world. It means turning our back on the conditions that cause suffering …
— Jakusho Kwong, No Beginning, No End
Non-action is the real action. One hundred acts are not as good as one moment of silence. One hundred exercises are not as good as one moment of standing still. … Big action is not as good as small action. Small action is not as good as non-action.
–Wang Xiang Zhai, Chinese Xingyiquan master
Outwardly go with the flow, while inwardly keeping your true nature. Then your eyes and ears will not be dazzled, and your thoughts will not be confused, while the secret within you will expand greatly to roam in the realms of absolute parity.
If you want to perceive and understand objectively, just don’t allow yourself to be confused by people. Detach from whatever you find inside or outside yourself and only then will you attain liberation. When you are not entangled in things, you pass through freely to autonomy.
— Zen Master Lin-chi
Without going out the door, you can know the whole universe.
Without looking through the window, you can see the ways of heaven.
The farther you go, the less you know.
Thus the sage knows without traveling,
sees without looking,
acts without doing.
–Lao-tzu, Taoteching, 47