Escaping society or encountering reality?

Not all men are called to be hermits, but all men need enough silence and solitude in their lives to enable the deep inner voice of their own true self to be heard at least occasionally.
Thomas Merton

Silence Retreat / Hermits in ProgressA hermit is a person who lives, to some degree, in seclusion from society.
The word hermit comes from the Latin ĕrēmīta, the latinisation of the Greek ἐρημίτης (erēmitēs), “of the desert”, which in turn comes from ἔρημος (erēmos), signifying “desert”, “uninhabited”, hence “desert-dweller”.
In Christianity, the term was originally applied to a Christian who lives the hermitic life out of a religious conviction, namely the Desert Theology of the Old Testament.
Other religions, for example, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, (Sufism) and Taoism, also have hermits in the sense of individuals living an ascetic form of life.

In September 2013, together with a team of artists/researchers, I began a creative journey through voluntary seclusion. My idea was to gently taste hermitic life (= voluntary seclusion from the world), diving into some of its various possibilities, maintaining an approach comprehensive both of artistic and spiritual dimensions. Artistic expression and meditation should be the two main focuses.

As an artist, I wanted to awaken questions about the place of silence in a society where noise and high speed seem to rule our lives. As a practitioner of meditation, I aimed to develop new ways of making hermitic experiences possible in everyday life and available to average people.

The Hermits in Progress project was articulated in twelve artistic-spiritual retreats where my team explored the creative potential of solitude, by spending days cloistered in a city-building, living in the forest, sleeping on the road, keeping walk-retreats in the countryside, living without money or electricity, experiencing fasting and full-day-meditations.

This long-term journey aimed to develop ways of making ascetic practices available to a large audience and to produce retreats open to the general public. The research team was composed of artists, monks, hermits and meditators. Some of them were part of the Moving the Silence performance: an artistic event built through a four-month-work without use of speech (Theatre Academy of Helsinki – February 2013).

Retreats – short descriptions

retreat 01 – 14th and 15th September 2013 –  breathing in the woods

We began our journey by focusing on silence and personal approach with nature. We spent the weekend in Nuuksio National Park (Finland).

retreat 02 – 12th October 2013 – urban seclusion

retreat 02 - Urban seclusion

We focused on silence and seclusion in a holy space in the middle of the city. We spent the whole day in the chapel of Kamppi (Helsinki).

retreat 03 – 23rd November 2013 – roaming contemplation

We focused on solitary meditative roaming in the countryside. We spent our day walking in solitude, allowing pauses for possible meditative or artistic practices. We took trains, choosing a random destination for each of us. The retreat started and ended at the central railway station of Helsinki.

retreat 04 – from 8th till 15th December 2013 – daily mysticism

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It is much easier to have a fleeting vision of reality in the perfect conditions of formal meditation rather than “practicing the presence of God” in the middle of nuisances, bothers, constant temptations of professional and family life.

Aldous Huxley

We attempted to awaken our own ‘inner hermit’, spending a normal working and family week according to the following lines:

–          Perform all duties being  focused on the present moment

–          Never complain but smile often

–          Find at least two hours a day for solitude or meditation

–          Sleep on the floor

–          Eat with moderation

–          Avoid unnecessary distraction

–          Let people you meet to go away from you  better and happier

–          Be happy

retreat 05 – from 24th till 26th January 2014 – simple living

We explored some aspects of voluntary poorness, spending a weekend according to the following lines:

–          Total or semi-fasting (fruits are allowed)

–          No use of money

–          No use of electronic devices (mobile-phones, computers and, electrical lights)

retreat 06 – from 21st to 23rd February 2014 – walk your path

We spent three days attempting to fulfill our own image of a perfect hermitage, focusing on those aspects of spiritual discipline which appealed us the most, and which helped us to be in contact with our own deepest self and to share love with others.

retreat 07 – 30th March 2014 – meeting hermits

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We visited a Carmelitan monastery, where nuns live in seclusion throughout their whole lifetime. We had possibility to interview nuns and to share with them Vespers-prayers, readings and one hour of silence.

retreat 08 – 17th-18th May 2014 – homeless night

20140518_015705We spent one night outdoors in the city.

retreat 09 – 24th May 2014 – full day meditation

We practiced Zen-meditation in one room of Theatre Academy of Helsinki throughout the whole day. Meditation was guided by Rev. Henri Järvinen and alternated sitting and walking periods.

retreat 10 – 31st May-1st June 2014 – sharing practices

We spent two days at Luova Kasvu (a retreat-place in the countryside, close to Espoo), sharing, showing or teaching one of our our personal daily spiritual/artistic routines to other participants. We observed silence.

retreat 11 – 23rd-28th June 2014 – living forest

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We spent one week in a forest on the top of a mountain, in the beautiful island of Sardinia (Italy). Our main activities included meditation, T’ai Chi, artistic creations with materials collected from the forest, work for the maintenance of paths and care of the natural environment.

retreat 12 – 25th-26th October 2014 – empty house

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In a completely empty apartment close to the forest, we observed silence, meditation and we developed personal artistic and spiritual practices.

A book describing my artistic research was published by Mimesis Edizioni in 2015: Goria, G. 2015. Active Silence – reinventing spirituality through art-research. Milano: Mimesis


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