Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Loneliness for Hermits, Sadness for Ministers

I recently got involved in a minor controversy over planning in my town. The Sikh community wanted to buy some land and build a Gurdwara. The people who would be neighbours to this group made some wild accusations about the seating capacity of the building and things boiled over into an ugly local racist drama. Ultimately several people, including myself, decided to make presentations to city Council supporting the proposed building.

Before we went to City Hall, we met for a potluck dinner.

It was one of those profoundly lonely moments that happen to me once in a while. Everyone else was "chit-chatting" about all and sundry, and I had nothing to say. I could respond to people's questions, but the ability to spontaneously "yack" with strangers about not very much of importance is something I have never been able to do. I used to try and "force it", but that would invariably result in me embarrassing myself because I say or do something that is wildly innappropriate.

As far as I know, all of these people were members of religious groups, successful at their careers and happy in their family life. In contrast, I work at a "slacker" job, will probably never be in any sort of relationship for the rest of my life, and, have never found a religious community that I felt comfortable in---even though I have tried time and again to "fit in".

And yet, there is something that is a bit of a consolution.

I don't think that these people see the world that I do. The introversion that dominates my life and creates a barrier with others I think allows me to see things that these people cannot fathom. I'm not talking about the ability to fart lightning bolts or regress to past lives. Instead, I'm thinking about, amongst other things, the way our society molds us and holds us tight in its fist.

After the event a couple aquaintances who are associated with one of the major Christian denominations came over to the pub with me for a pint of ale. One of them was a bit low as a result of church politics and was---in his words---"venting". It became very clear to me that even though he genuinely likes the people around him, he pays an enormous price for being an engaged member of his religious community. In particular, he has to be totally circumspect about what he says in public events about various elements of denominational orthodoxy. (I've had more than a few clergy tell me how carefully they have to mask what they think from various elements of their flock---this is a very common complaint.) The other fellow talked about the same thing from a historical perspective by illustrating time and again the ways in which the ecclesiastic hierarchy had styfled the free expression of ideas.

By the time it was time to leave, I had come to the conclusion that deeply religious people simply have to pay a huge price in life. Either they opt for being in congregations and thereby have to subvert the dearest part of their souls to the viscissitudes of ecclesiastic politics (this can be as big as the entire denomination or as small as the petty snits in a monastery.) Or, like me, they have to purchase their freedom at the price of finding themselves excluded from the warmth and comfort that comes from being in a community.

Sadness from thwarted passion, or, extreme loneliness from spiritual isolation. It seems to me that the genuinely religious person will always find his passion. In Christian terms, it is picking up the cross and following Christ. In Daoist terms it is burning away all your impurities in Old Lao's furnace.


misha said...

i am an urban hermit too. i just recently got internet access and began blogging. It has lessened my loneliness. i hope the Sikh community gets to build their Gurdwara. Do let us know. i just joined, so you may already be there, but there is a taoist fourm at

The Cloudwalking Owl said...

Hi Misha:

Oh I'm pretty sure that the Gurdwara will be built. I've only gotten involved because it looked like a "teachable moment" and to show the Sikhs that they have friends in the wider community.

I looked at the forum. Like a lot of them, it doesn't seem to be inhabited by many people who know much about Daoism. That's OK, but it just isn't what I'm into.