A Year of Becoming An Socially Ascetic Hermit – A Retrospective

I am not the most socially apt man… I confess that I am actually more introverted than I seem, because I have to actively force myself to talk to people that I do not know. It may not seem like it to some folks who know me, but I actually struggle on the inside to just try to make an introduction.

For many who do know me… You know that I have always felt that my home city has been the home where my heart feels I belong. Last year due to family reasons, I had to move to a city nearly an hour away. From that, it brought a lot of changes like having to learn a new city and become more familiar with it. Unlike original my home city, my heart doesn’t feel an affinity with my new city… While I have memorized most of the roads and shop locations where I go to buy supplies, I don’t feel like I am home. The new city even after one year of residence feels “alien” for lack of a better word.

Adding to that… I made a transition to working more from home, because doing a 1 hour commute (during non-rush hour times) one-way to work can be brutal and in worse cases… being stuck in rush hour can mean a 3+ hour commute home. As a result, I don’t get much social interactions in-person with my co-workers at my base office. Additionally, my beloved has needed me to become a caretaker for her which also has me staying at home more often because she has been going through her own struggles.

The ultimate culmination is that my new home has become a bit of a personal sanctuary and hermitage. I end up reading, studying, playing video games, and trying to improve on myself at home. As a result… I have become a hermit that has become comfortably numb within my own home. Going out to the market feels like a mentally agonizing chore, but if it’s a situation where my home is out of sundry goods or food… I sack up and just head out. Interestingly enough, becoming a socially recluse hermit has been like a spiritual quest in social asceticism. It has brought about many thoughts…

Adult life can epitomize the Buddhist “life of strife and suffering” mantra to a sense, because adult responsibilities end up being mentally taxing. Not all suffering is physical and sometimes adults write off mental suffering because it doesn’t cause visible harm sometimes. As children, we don’t have to worry about the electricity bill being $350, the credit card for pet medications being a bit high, or being consumed with uncertainty in the future that it causes insomnia. As children, we take our nativity to the world for granted and it is much like the story of the young prince (before he became the Buddha) being in the walled palace who is ignorant to the suffering of the world outside of the palace. It’s something that has come to my attention when I take time for meditations.

Adult life and friendships can take odd turns… I remember my life in Dallas that nearly every weekend, I had some sort of grand plan with my friends there. A board game night every weekend. Going to a Korean taco shop for dinner and drinks. Having a family style dinner at my apartment… Once all of us started growing into our 30’s and our professional lives started coming into being, things changed be they in or out of our control. Some of my friends ended up working odd evening or graveyard overnight hours. Other friends may have ended up dating romantic partners who may have had a child from a previous marriage. Some friends went from being 2 minutes from my Dallas home to nearly 30 minutes away. Some may have had to become caretakers to their spouses. This would end up cutting into those sublime moments where the weekend were the time we had in common to come together, celebrate life’s joys, and commiserate in life’s challenges. Little did I know that my move would exacerbate things…

As a result of my move, I am now up to 1.5 hours away from some friends which can make for a brutal drive in busy weekender traffic on the roads. I generally don’t have the luxury of staying over at the homes of friends as most of my friends either live in small apartments, can’t take overnight guests, or have constraints that don’t make an overnight stay ideal. I haven’t seen some friends ranging from a few months to nearly 2 years. Some of my good friends may not have the time or luxury to see me with respect to a commute that could be 1+ hour long which I understand as well. I have one good friend who has definitely made a serious effort to come out, but he is blessed with a wife who’s generally lenient and provides him a lot of freedom to pursue his social interactions. Being “deprived” of seeing my friends in person has also made moments like being able to see them in person being so much more meaningful… but that’s not without its dark side.

Being socially isolated by my home situation in addition with my adult responsibilities has come with some downsides.

I have had moments where I go weeks without in-person social interactions and end up in a state that I feel almost socially starved for interaction. In those moments, I feel like I have had a thirst for water that has gone on for too long. It makes me savor the moments I get to spend with my friends who come to visit me, but when they have to go home… I get a bit sad like a feral cat who may not know when they may find their next meal. Equally, if I am able to make a day of seeing a friend at their home, it feels like making a grand pilgrimage to satiate my appetite for social interactions after fasting for many days.

In the same right… It has also shown me who my true friends are. Those who truly care about me and my beloved versus who just see our friendship as a convenience. Not only for just local friends… but also with friends online. Social asceticism has also given me more time to think about my own personal values and re-evaluate some friends who in recent years I have began to question my friendships with. Some folks I have just cut out of my life completely due to just simply seeing that their values no longer respect my own values to the point that civility or peaceable political discourse is simply not possible (“You’re an idiot to think that way and if you refuse to change… you’re nothing short of human trash!”). The depressing thing is that some of these people were people I used to respect or hold in high esteem… It’s been a bit of a social wake-up call to me for a sense.

It’s been interesting just seeing the fractures in the facade because that has lead into another event that has come to be most recently: Social media has become poison and I want nothing to do with it.

As a younger man, I thought social media was a great blessing as a communications tool. Being able to share information with “friends” or pitch questions to a crowd if you couldn’t trust the wild west that was (and in some cases still is) the Internet as a whole. Since the last US election, that has opened my eyes to the fact that social media has become a poisoned well mated to an echo chamber. Social media has made it easier to spread lies as fact and if those comforting lies coincidentally fall in line with a social groups beliefs and values… No one on social media seems to question it.

It’s almost like a regression to the day of the early internet where email forwards had questionable things like “Satan is coming and this email with the love of Christ can save the world… Forward this to 12 of your friends and God will protect you from the End of Times” but yet were debunked easily because those emails would make ridiculous claims such as “There’s no attachment on this email because God’s love can track who has or hasn’t completed his wish of having this email sent to 12 friends”.

News media companies who have only recently embraced the internet since the last US election have seem to lost their moral fiber and ethics of reporting the facts to instead resorting to yellow journalism, tabloid reporting, and sensationalizing events to an editorial bent in hopes of advertiser dollars. This is a frightening trend, because a lot of older folks rely on the news via TV and radio for their view of the world… but at the same right, a lot of folks in the 20’s and 30’s have come to rely on the news being posted to social media to shape and form their views. The result of sensationalized news being reported with yellow, tabloid-style reporting is that news organizations can spread misinformation (whether deliberately or not, depends on their political leanings) and rely on viral style distribution. In some cases, misinformation may be quietly corrected… but by the time a correction has been issued, the news company makes a quiet push with no fanfare. This potentially means some people may not realize their world view may potentially be compromised by erroneous information or worse yet… because the information may call their values and beliefs into question, they suppress the correction because their social circle on social media may burn them at the stake for going against their status quo.

I personally have learned this first hand… Some folks would get mad at me trying to correct information by accusing me of over-explaining a topic even if it may be a subject I have expertise in all because maybe the information politely asks “Are you considering every angle of the argument and trying to be humane to your friend who is trying to provide an equal view to a topic to open up your preconceived opinion?” I have found that sometimes challenging a person’s world view may end up with them resorting to name calling or ad hominem attacks on my character when I have not done the same to them. It’s been quite hard keeping a cool head in those situations, but at the same time… I feel like I am wearing my patience thin which saddens me a great deal.

As the days pass and the number of “friends” I know grows fewer… I feel the specter of loneliness creep closer. Some days I have fear that my social asceticism and self-isolation may eventually rob me of any companions in this lifetime. I have found myself diving more and more into gaming and intellectual pursuits that have been more enjoyable than intellectual fighting because I feel like the divisiveness of the world has burned out my soul. It makes me wonder if I can even find a voice for myself because the passing days make me feel like my voice is quickly disappearing.

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