Hermit Life

I was really grumpy this morning. It wasn’t my fault – someone really pissed me off (by email!!), and quite frankly they should know better than to be so rude.

I messaged a friend, suggesting that we continue the hermit-life for the long haul…. who wouldn’t want to continue living in solitude thereby avoiding annoying human interactions for, like, ever? My friend is up for some hermit goings-on, but I had a quick look online and retreat accomodation is outrageously expensive so it’s not looking like an option. Thoreau’s hut is almost certainly $500 a night on AirBnB, who can afford to be a hermit contemplative these days?

I felt tired of lockdown, tired of social media, and reading about the latest idiotic thing that Trump has said (something about injecting bleach). Trump was lockdown entertainment for a while but not anymore; juxtaposed with the news coming out of New York he’s really not that funny. It’s heartbreaking to read about the hardships people are facing in our own back-yard; Queenstown is a tourist town above anything else, and so many businesses have already gone to the wall.

I started wondering, what’s the point? Of developing skills and experience, pursuing a career, building a life. Who cares? Everyone is at home right now, in the same boat whether you are the boss or the assistant. The boss has a bigger house to isolate in I guess, more gadgets to plug in.

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I did my meditation, went for a walk with Pema and considered whether the only really important achievement in life was to work out how to talk kindly and considerately to other people (and thereby not piss them off). I think I need to isolate myself for much longer to achieve that, but I am pleased that I didn’t respond to the person that annoyed me earlier…. we dwell in solitude to develop skills to be nicer in company perhaps. 

After a whole morning of moaning, I finally realised that all my internal complaining was just disturbing my precious, temporary hermit-life. “Recover your mind and your will, which are busying themselves elsewhere. You are draining away and scattering yourself. Concentrate yourself. Hold yourself back. You are being betrayed, dissipated, robbed!” said Montaigne*, and he wasn’t even a Buddhist! But he kind of was. That’s the cool thing about mindfulness – regardless of religion, race or which century we live in, our insights into our minds are universal. The buddhists do seem to have explored this landscape exceedingly well mind you, giving us very helpful language and a road map.

I made the most delicious ‘palak paneer’ for late lunch. We have so much spinach in the garden right now. Any greens would work here, including kale or silverbeet, or a mix. I didn’t have any paneer, so I cubed some haloumi and fried it in a dry pan til golden, then added this to the smooth spinach curry along with some broccoli florets for extra nutritional goodness. Palak paneer traditionally has cream added at the end, but I really don’t feel it’s necessary, our spinach is so sweet and the cheese is plenty enough dairy for me. There’s enough leftovers for tomorrow!

Palak Paneer – serves 2

  • Steam 200g of spinach until wilted but not disintegrated. Set aside to drain, keeping the green steaming water.
  • In a small pan, melt 1 tbsp coconut oil and add 1/2 a small red onion sliced or chopped, 2 crushed garlic cloves and a tsp of grated ginger. I would have added 1/2 a fresh chilli if I had one, but I didn’t. When soft, add to a blender along with the steamed greens & the ‘green water’, and puree til very smooth.
  • In a clean pan, heat some more coconut oil and add 1/2 tbsp cumin seeds, 1/4 tsp of chilli flakes. When popping, add about 100g of chopped tomatoes (I used a mix of slightly past-it fresh tomatoes), 1 tbsp of tomato puree, 1/2 tsp salt, about 1 tsp brown sugar, about 1/4 tsp ground cardamom, 1/2 tsp garam masala and 1/2 tsp curry powder. Simmer 5 minutes or until the tomatoes are deliciously saucy.
  • Stir the pureed greens into the tomato sauce.
  • Add cubed paneer (or alternatively diced tofu, or diced haloumi), and serve with brown rice and/or chapati.
  • pay attention to your inner world, and see to what extent you have inner solitude as well as outer solitude!

Next week I am doing a 5-day retreat with the exceptionally kind teachers Joseph Goldstein and Sharon Salzberg, online of course. I don’t think it’s too late to sign up. The retreat is described thus:

In these times of uncertainty, we are each being offered a fertile ground to more deeply explore the meanings of wisdom and compassion in our lives. The balance, resilience and lovingkindness strengthened in meditation practice can become essential contributions to our own wellbeing, as well as to family and community.



I’ve always liked the way Buddhism develops those two skills – wisdom AND compassion. I used to think that the wisdom part was more for me (meaning, a personal development), and compassion is an outward expression  – for the benefit of society.

My time in this isolation, and today in particular, has suggested that the difference between wisdom and compassion, and the distinction between solitude and life in community, are in fact very thin. Even in isolation I carry the thoughts, opinions and energy of the people in my life, and of the culture I was born into. And, the fruits of my inner work and my ability (to whatever degree) to be in some control of not blurting out every thought that crosses my mind, enormously affects my life in the world.

I am so pleased to be ending my time in strict isolation with Joseph & Sharon (as contradictory as that sounds!)

Til next time!

And if anyone knows of a retreat cottage somewhere, available for a one year retreat!….



*I found this Montaigne quote in Stephen Batchelor’s wonderful and timely book, The Art Of Solitude





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