The Secular Hermit

Serenity, Simplicity, Self-Sufficiency, and Eco-Centricity

I have decided at this late stage of my life to live an eredite lifestyle. Actually, maybe this is more like where I find myself at this time in my life, and I quite like it.

I have been pulling further and further away from the culture and society in which I grew up and lived all these 73 years. This process actually has been ongoing for several decades, but has accelerated the last few years. For the first time in my adult life I find myself living alone and single. This process has been further augmented by my closing down my counseling practice. I am now in “retired” status mode with regards to my LPC (licenced professional counselor). I guess I am “emeritus” here as I am an Emeritus Professor of Zoology from Clemson University?

Classically hermits were religiously oriented, e.g. The Desert Fathers and Mothers of fourth century Egypt, Thomas Merton, John the Baptist, etc. They went to the deserts, forrests, mountains, etc., to be away from society and people and to get closer to God. But then there was Henry David Thoreau his two years on Walden Pond (Walden) Thoreau was not exactly religious but talked a lot about God and nature. Walden was mainly his relating his life experiment in individualism, a classic protest against government interference, and a life of simplicity and being close to nature. I’m not going that far but in that direction.Thought a lot about it. Daydreamed for over a couple of decades off and on about building a Tiny House and living in the Chihuahuan Desert area in Big Bend area in Texas. Hence my two books, WindWalker and Guru, that took place in or in part in that area.*

I am not “religious.” I am, however, spiritual. Spirituality, I define as cultivating serenity and personal growth–a very secular definition. No religion per se involved. In my Guru book, I write about secular spirituality (pp 138-139). Of how you can be spiritual without being religious.

The second title above is a subtitle. The whole of the first two together represents the working title of my current book project. I started out with a working title of, Buddha on a Bike. This will probably become the introductory chapter now. Many of my blog posts will become components of this project. As I surveyed the hermit literature, it is replete with all kinds of God/religious stuff but sorely lacking in a secular perspective. This deficit is where my book is directed. It will not be directed per se at hermits, but rather to folks that wish to cultivate serenity, simplicity, self-reliance, and eco-centricity in their lives. Eco-centricity, coming from an ecological frame of reference in our perspectives and actions, I discuss in more detail in an earlier post.

As hermits go, they can take all kinds of forms. I am located in a small South Carolina town, close to my family: adult children (3), grandchildren (5), and one great grandchild. I interact and communicate with them daily usually. We have family dinners and celebrations. I can pick up the phone, email, or text, any one of them, sometimes just to chat. I take daily walks down the street to my daughters and visit with my two-year old granddaughter. She has her Granddaddy wrapped around her finger. So, I’m not all that isolated.

Part of this process has been my selling my truck, switching to a bicycle-only lifestyle (at least as a trial), downsizing, simplifying, and decluttering. The last three are in progress. I am going through my house, office, and shops taking a Maria Kondo (The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up) approach MOL. Not quite that OCD, but trying to really evaluate stuff. I plan on having a big yard sell with much of it. Some, I’m selling on Craig’s List or FB Market. The rest I’ll donate to one of the area thrift shops.

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Dancing with the Dragon

Bandido and his dragon, Chaos, guarding my Shadow cave and its “treasures”. She lies asleep here in the lake of my great unconscious. .

Just finished a three-day Zen sesshin. For those who don’t remember from my earlier posts and writings, these are intense meditation retreats where one is in sitting meditation (zazen) for about nine hours a day. These days involve rounds of multiple sittings, broken up between with walking meditation (kinhin).

For me, these have never been fun. They are hard and often involve unpleasant internal work; and usually, for me, are accompanied by a lot of discomfort and pain from the long hours of sitting. On this one for example, I had to make a run during one of our breaks to my chiropractor. My T7 vertebrae began screaming out almost from the start. I usually try to get into see him for an adjustment before a sesshin, but too many things were going on before, and I hadn’t made it this time. Having to get out like that is scattering when you come back and try to merge back into your sittings.

Again, many of you may ask, so why does he do these things again? I wrote a blog post on that just recently, but need to expand on it some, as it will be a section or chapter in one of my book projects. Basically, though, it is for the spiritual and personal growth they promote.

In my lifetime quest to cultivate peace-of-mind and personal growth, such intense experiences as these, along with vision quests, really make you stand and face your own shit! That deep inner stuff most of us would really prefer not to know about much less face. It’s called our Shadow, which I also need to write a separate post.

Shadow is those instinctual, suppressed parts of ourselves that reside down in our subconscious. Meaning, we are usually unaware of them and try to keep them stuffed down, or hide them when they do come up. They come up when we are stressed, inebriated, tired, and, of course, in our dreams. Shadow is those parts of ourselves we really don’t want to know about much less face. Well guess what, during sesshins, Shadow is out, unchained. Enters, my dragon, Chaos. She’s out, and I have to dance with her if I want to move forward in my life.

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Desert Wildness

Desert mountains of Chihauhuan Desert of Texas

“Fuck!” Bandido exclaimed as he removed his smelly cigar from his mouth and looked over at first, Chaos, then at me with an accusatory eye. “You’r waking her up,” and sighed, heading over to her, I assumed to calm her down. Walking away, he said over his shoulder, “It’s our damn desert calling to again.”

I had awoken early this morning with my anxiety way up about 1) tomorrow would be the last day of my counseling career as we did our last equine-assisted psychotherapy day at our boys school . We had been taking the horses out to for some 14 years now and earning a good salary for doing it, and it that only involved being out there four days a month. My income was about to take a major nosedive! But, what Bandido was referring to was #2: about another trip out to the desert of Big Bend National Park, 1500 miles of driving one way, in the Chihauhuan Desert in far West Texas.

Those few that have read my two books, especially the Guru one, know, Bandido and his his sidekick, Chaos, his dragon, are my Jungian Shadow complex. Bandido is the dragon keeper. His job is to keep Chaos calm and mainly sleeping. She’s the dragon that guards my inner-most sanctum, those repressed parts of myself that I’d rather not deal with or admit to. Although, at this late stage in my life her “treasure,” my stash of issues and repressions that she guards, is greatly diminished hopefully. Thank goodness. I’ll have more to say about these two in later posts on Shadow work and individuation.

Briefly though, Bandido is rude, crude, doesn’t miss words. He shoots straight to the point. He is not very civilized, so to speak. He is my alter ego. He’s the part of me that comes out when I’m pissed, anxious, or just irritated, for example. Stupid irritate me. And, there was a whole lot of stupid running around the last four years. I like him. He takes after my own heart. What’s this about the desert then?

The desert, or rather its wildness, calls to me in times of transition. I am now neck-deep in transition as I leave my old life in mental health counseling and aim to devote what lefts of it in these sunset years to discern and follow my calling, which is basically about writing and teaching to help others in their own spiritual and personal growth. To be clear, when I use the word “spiritual,” I define it as inner-peace and personal growth.

I have been in a series of personal transitions over the last several years. My first was back in 1998 when I was leaving academia and giving up my tenured professorship. Over the last recent years, I have felt the need and taken trips to the desert in 2015, 2017, and 2019. I have a biannual pattern going here. So a trip in 2021 would fit into that pattern. That’s not why I’m going though. Rather, like I said, I am in the midst of another major life transition and that is what is calling me. I need to go out spend some clarifying time out on the desert.

Now, this is more vision-quest type time. It’s intense, alone, and camping out in the desert; experiencing her directly and head-on. Experiencing her wildness! What do I mean by “desert wildness”?

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Synchronicity: Discerning a Path in the Darkness

I’m a true believer in synchronicity. It happens to me mostly when I am in the midst of a major life transition, which is where I find myself right now.

Psychologist Carl Jung, a contemporary of Freud, defined synchronicity as the simultaneous co-occurrence of two events that seemingly have no discernible causal connection. I discuss three of these during a major life transition I was going through in my first book, WindWalker: Journey into Science, Self, and Spirit, available for now through this website (darrellyardley.com) directly from me.

One of those synchronicity events was when I had walked out of my office at the university and over to get on my Harley to go home. I had only recently realized that I wanted to make a major change in direction in my life, a calling that had been subliminally calling to me for years, but I had ignored and shoved down. That calling was to leave my academic, research career in evolutionary genetics and go into mental health counseling. I was pondering this as I walked out to my Harley that day, wondering how I could go about making that change.

My Harley was usually the only one in the motorcycle parking area, but that day, sitting right beside mine, was another beautiful Harley. As I was looking over at it and getting on my riding leathers, upped walked its owner. We stood there and talked for a few minutes. He said he was just coming back from completing is last course for getting his counseling degree. This immediately got my interest. Was I not just thinking about that? I didn’t even know Clemson University offered degrees in counseling. I had checked into it but with the Psychology Department. This degree program was through Education. Several days later, I found myself enrolled in my first course in the program. Classes were held in the evenings and so would not interfere with my faculty “day job.” Plus, as faculty, I could take one course a semester for free!

Enters my current life transition, having decided that after 23 years, I am through with counseling, and terminating my contract with the boys schools we have been doing horse therapy (equine-assisted counseling) with for 14 years. I am in a discernment phase now 1) trying to decide what my callings are in this late stage of my life; and 2) the need to find an additional source of income to replace some of the income I am loosing from the boys school. Something that involves using my callings.

I know a lot of the pieces (the #1’s), just not yet how to pull them together to accomplish #2,. One of those pieces was to go deeper into my Zen Buddhist spiritual practice. In this regard, the COVID pandemic and the extensive use of Zoom actually works in my favor toward this end. I am now a participating member, mainly via Zoom, with the Windhorse Zen Community, about 90 miles away, near Alexandria, NC. Now, back to synchronicity…

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“If you have to ask, you wouldn’t understand.”

I was reminded of this saying once again the other day. It comes from my old Harley motorcycle days. In my journey through life and all the “strange” things I’ve done and do, I have often been asked, “Why do you do that?” Or its variation, “Why would anyone want to do something like that?” Been here before. Done that. So, here’s the story…

An old biker getting off his Harley and dressed in full black leather riding gear was approached by a little old lady, obliviously mainstream and well to do. She asked, “Why do you ride those things? They’re noisy and just look at the type of people who ride them.” He looked at her and politely said, “Mam, if I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand,” and he walked off, leaving her standing there.

Now, this is not a post about Harleys, although I sometimes miss them. It is a post about my current life and a course I’m just finishing teaching. I have been teaching an OLLIE course through Clemson University. OLLIE for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute presents short courses for retired folks, usually taught by retired faculty from Clemson, that be me in this case. Twenty-five plus years ago I had taught one on recombinant DNA for what was then OLLIE and while I was still a faculty at Clemson. It had been fun. Retired folks signup and take these courses because they’re interested in the topics and enjoy learning new stuff. They are lifelong learners. It is a great program.

The topic of my course, based on my new Guru book, was ” Medicine Wheels, Vision Quests, and Jungian Archetypes.” It was three lectures and one experiential where I will give participants an opportunity to meet one of their own personal archetypes, face-to-face, so to speak. All lectures are done via Zoom.

The course was one of my forays to see if there was interest out there for some of the stuff in which I am interested and to potentially give myself an avenue for a new path as I walk away from my current job from burnout and into the unknown at this point. Not sure where I’m going, but I’ll know when I get there.

In the first lecture, at the end of it, one of the participants asked me, “Why would you want to do something like that?” I smiled, and told her and the very small class, first the old Harley riders response, and then a story of a physician I had been working with many years ago. However, this being a class and all, I took a deep breath and gave her a partial explanation, on which I went much more into detail at the beginning of the next lecture. Then, in the spirit of learning, weaved in my answer over the next two lectures for good measure.

As for the physician story, I had just come back from the vision quest that I wrote about in Guru. Several of the staff had gathered round me when I came back, curious about where I had been and what I had been doing, and all sorts of questions about my experience. Somewhere toward the end of that telling, the physician had walked up and was listening. When I had finished he asked me,

“Why would you want to do anything like that?” Although he had done work with medical intuitive, Carolyn Myss, and was himself pretty good at it, as well as certified in acupuncture. he was pretty arrogant and cocky, and I had bit my tongue with him more than once in our pas in one of his smart ass remarks. It was Payback” time: I looked at him and said, “Well, Bobby, if I have to explain, you wouldn’t understand,” and like the old biker, just left him standing there as I walked off to see my first patient. He never asked me again. Okay, back to my story.

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