The hermitage was a sparse, one-room cabin.
There was no electricity and no means of easily contacting the outside world. There was a single, hard-backed chair, a twin-sized bed, a small basket of food and some candles.
It was not a place to work, write letters, exercise, clean, create to-do lists, draw, paint, take pictures or even read.
It was challenging. It was uncomfortable. And I would do it again in a heartbeat.
Because, in the words of Iain Thomas:
“Every day, the world will drag you by the hand, yelling ‘This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!’ And each day it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say ‘No. This is what’s important.'”
A hermitage is not a place to do. It is a place to be. With yourself, with the moment, with a higher power (if you believe in one), with whatever it is you need to be present to.
You. Just. Be.
It was there that I found an opportunity to put my hand back on my heart and say: “This is what’s important.”
Here is what I believe.
We are not on this earth to have a good job. To go to work each day, and write that report or make that presentation, and receive a regular paycheck.
We are not here to have a 401(k) or save enough to retire. To pay the rent or the mortgage or to put kids through college.
We are not here to shop for clothes, shoes, groceries or household appliances.
We are not here to pay taxes on time. Or to do the dishes. We are not here to buy groceries and cook dinner. To send holiday cards, thank-you notes or birthday presents.
We are not here to go to the gym, take vitamins, go to the doctor and the dentist, take showers and comb our hair.
We are not here to make other people feel comfortable. We are not here to fit in.
Yes, these things may all be important, maybe even really important. But they are not what is most important. To put it simply, they are not our Life Purpose (capital “L”, capital “P”).
Though I believe this, I have often lost sight of it.
Like Iain Thomas said, each day thousands of things demand and compete for our attention.
Sometimes they overwhelm me.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve woken up in the morning and immediately started sprinting through the day. I rush through everything that needs to get done, only to crawl into bed hours later feeling empty and exhausted. Though I’ve gotten a lot done, I don’t feel particularly proud or accomplished.
I let the events of the day largely dictate my thoughts, feelings and behaviors, instead of the other way around. My day lacked meaning and purpose; so while I may have went through the motions of living, I lacked that essential feeling of aliveness.
Still, I made excuses for why I couldn’t focus on what was most important.
“I’m too busy, stressed, exhausted…” I’d say to myself. Or, “I’ll make time for that after I finish…”
To be perfectly honest, sometimes focusing on the deeper meaning of my life felt impractical. I felt I needed to listen to the demands of the world first and then I could listen to those of my soul.
About a year ago, I had a wake up call.
My dad was diagnosed with cancer. Over the course of eight months, I watched as the disease slowly ravished his body and finally took his life a few days before Thanksgiving. During that time, it seemed like my entire world was crumbling; I barely trusted the ground beneath my feet. I was in survival mode; often alternating between numbness and overwhelming despair.
An opportunity arose.
Several weeks after his death, still struggling with despair, I found myself alone in a one-room cabin without electricity. It was the first time I’d been completely alone in months.
And so I cried into the stillness. I wailed, pouring myself out the door and out the window until the cabin was empty once again. When I was done, I slept, because I was very, very tired.
And then, alone and silent, I sat and reflected with my hand upon my heart. This is what’s important.
Hours and hours later, I arrived at four truths:
The world could be a scary place. But I was tired of feeling afraid.
Things didn’t always make sense. But I didn’t want my security to depend on figuring it all out.
Sometimes we get hurt. But I didn’t want to spend my life trying to protect myself.
Often life feels unfair. But I didn’t want to always feel angry or distrustful.
What did I want, then? Peace.
I have always wanted peace.
And I had spent a good deal of my life trying to create it for myself by dutifully doing what the outside world told me was important. Yet, that had brought no peace during the past year. I realized the only way I could have peace was to find it within. Not by shielding myself from the danger, chaos and uncertainty of the outside world; but by mindfully engaging with each moment’s opportunity to learn, grow and contribute to the betterment of myself and the world around me.
I decided to make time for connecting.
Back in the real world, I find I’m more committed to doing this than I have ever been before. I still get caught up in distractions and I sometimes start to give too much time and energy to what the outside world tells me is important. But I don’t attempt to justify this anymore by telling myself that I’m only doing what’s necessary or just being “practical.” I know the cost of such excuses is too high. So instead, I recognize my error and then find a way to put my hand on my heart in order to remind myself of what is really important.
To do this, I’ve found it essential to take regular “time-outs” where I just breathe, relax and clear my mind. Then I ask myself questions like these:“What beliefs/values do you want to uphold?” “Who do you really want to be?” “What is the impact you want to have on the world?” “What do you want to learn right now?”
When I know these answers, I feel reenergized and motivated to engage in the world with the qualities of my best self.
I urge anyone who finds himself buried under the weight of a thousand important things, to find a way to step back and put their hand on their heart. “No. This is what’s important.”
Sometimes my daily meditation practice is enough to help me do this. Other times, I need longer periods of solitude and silence, withdrawing from others so I can face myself without distraction.
While some might view this as escaping from the real world, I see it as a way of reconnecting to it.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editorial Assistant: Yaisa Nio / Editor: Rachel Nussbaum
Photos : Courtesy of author