The Last True Hermit tells the story of Christopher Knight, a man who spend twenty-seven years living in complete isolation in the woods of Central Marine.
Knight survived for all that time, through the harsh Maine winters, by stealing food, clothing and supplies from camps and houses nearby, a practice which eventually led to his capture when the local police chief rigged a nearby camp with a silent alarm.
The entire story is absolutely fascinating (do yourself a favour and read the whole thing), but the part that most caught my eye comes near the end. Michael Finkel, the report who wrote the piece, presses Christoper to share his insights; what did he learn after spending almost thirty years alone? Surely he must have gained some kind of unique perspective on the human condition after living for so long in a way that few other human beings have ever lived:
Chris became surprisingly introspective. “I did examine myself,” he said. “Solitude did increase my perception. But here’s the tricky thing—when I applied my increased perception to myself, I lost my identity. With no audience, no one to perform for, I was just there. There was no need to define myself; I became irrelevant. The moon was the minute hand, the seasons the hour hand. I didn’t even have a name. I never felt lonely. To put it romantically: I was completely free.”
It’s surely impossible to imagine solitude on the scale that Christoper experienced it, but this description powerfully brought to mind my experiences of meditation. The feeling of “just being there, without the need to define myself,” is one I’ve experienced many times during meditation and which is difficult to maintain when in the presence of others.
Perhaps that’s what Christoper had been seeking when he’d decide to walk alone into the woods 27 years ago. A space where he could just be.