I've been recognizing over the last few days how much I am enjoying doing some very simple things in my life. Ever since I have moved onto the True North Ranch ( a grand name for a rural 2 acre piece of land on the east side of Paso Robles, CA), I have been being pulled back in time to creating things and participating in activities in my life that take some effort. Things like having a vegetable garden, going for slow walks, playing backgammon instead of watching tv. Recently, my wife and I installed a wood burning fireplace. We didn’t just install it we built what we consider the heart of our home. We aged some corrugated tin to use as decorative walls, sourced old barn wood, built a built-in bookshelf and installed some cabinets. The new wood burning stove is now the source of heat for our home. It takes time to get the fire going every morning and every evening. It takes time to gather the wood. This is time that could be used to do other things like….well, I don’t remember what I would be doing but I can tell you that I love doing this activity which has become some what of a ritual.
Today I discovered the short film Summoning the Recluse on Aeon.com, which is my new favorite website to source material and find inspiration. The story is one of a group Chinese millennial's who are in in search of meaning and spirituality by going into the mountains to connect with the ancient ways of living and drawing upon nature, Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian traditions. They are called to nature, to the old way of life, to the simplicity in living. I found that it hits home on something that I have been experiencing.
What I find most inspiring in the video and what I relate to is having that balance between the old ways and the new ways that the information age is providing us with. The key for me is finding how to incorporate some of the ways a hermit spends their time. I think that taking time each day to connect with nature, grow your own food, contributing to building your own shelter, or your own heat source is a great way to get back to the source of our spiritual essence. To slow down and reduce stress. To jump off the hamster wheel, take a break form the super highway of life that just seems to be getting faster and faster everyday. It’s the connection to nature by ways of gardening, gathering wood, feeling cold air in your house and then warming it with fire that is sparking a joy in my soul. I feel an ease wash over me.
Scientifically, if I were to be monitoring my heart rate and cortisol levels, I am sure they would be lowered while I am doing these activities. So I feel confident that these simple, slowed down actions are contributing to my greater health and well being. The information age can be extremely stressful if we only spend time consuming, and for me I think that cutting myself off from the wonders of technology would be a source of stress as well. I am finding that there is a sweet spot between the 2 worlds of ancient ritual and modern multi media consumption.
There is a balance in taking all the beauty and simplicity that surrounds us and pulling in information from others around the globe. We are living in a time of bridging these 2 worlds. Our brains are even set up that way. We have the reptilian brain, the amygdala, the part of our brain that controls the fight or flight response and connects to nature. And we have the modern brain, the pre-frontal cortex, that area which is capable of taking information and processing it consciously. I feel I find a feeling of great balance when both of these areas are being stimulated.
In no way do I intend to become a hermit, to cut myself off from humanity. After all we are social animals and I love being around people and enjoying modern life. I love going to the city for a day or two and going to concerts. Being able to fly off to Italy and connect through social media and create films and videos. I love having the world at my fingertips via my keyboard or mobile device. What I really love is being able to access all of it as I sit next to my little black stove, sipping on my morning espresso and looking out at the beautiful rolling hills in front of my home. I love sitting here and writing in the solitude of the morning as I hear the slight rumble and crackle of the fire next to me. I love that today I will work on curing olives that I picked from a friends tree, and work with the latest technology in editing software to create marketing videos for small businesses and nature films for a greater patient experience, and that today I will go flying in a small airplane for the first time over the San Andreas Fault and Hearst Castle. Oh, and tonight my wife and I will come home and build a fire, maybe play some backgammon as we listen to music that we ask Alexa, our new favorite AI, to play for us. I guess we are now modern day hybrid hermits.