Finding the Hermit in Italy

By Erika Manzan One morning during Thich Nhat Hanh's October retreat in Italy, he talked to the children about finding our own Hermit. Thay said that to meet our Hermit, we must pay attention, since he can take any form. At the end of the children's Dharma talk, he invited them to write about their own experience and to send him their writings. Though I'm a mature woman and my hair all white, deep in my heart, I am one of those little girls. So I decided to write about my experience with my own Hermit.

During the retreat, I walked outdoors with Thay, the monastics and the whole Sangha. Walking slowly and peacefully through the pine woods was wonderful, relaxing, and full of harmony. And during just such a walking meditation, I met my Hermit.

I was walking attentively, following my breath, when my left foot bumped into something solid, sitting in the middle of my path. It was a big pine cone, tightly closed because of the night rain. "Here's my Hermit!" I picked it up and brought it with me. Once in my room, I placed it on the table and bowed to it in welcome. Then I returned to the retreat activities.

That night, after the last sitting meditation, I came back to my "hermitage" and my Hermit was where I left it, sitting still with dignity. I said hello and started to prepare myself for the night. But lost in my thoughts, I suddenly knocked my forehead against the upper bunk of my bed. I usually don't sleep in a bunk bed, but surely if I had not been absent-minded, I would have avoided that knock. With the pain came anger: I was angry with the Hermit. It was he who suddenly took the shape of the upper bed and hit me on the forehead! What should I do with him? Should I say to him "thank you," or should I throw him out?

I breathed mindfully, and I felt moved. I asked my Hermit: "Who are you?" And suddenly, I could see! "You are a very precious part of me and I ignored you so often. Please, stay here with me, it is cold and dark and rainy out there." For a long time I listened to the wind through the pine trees, then I fell asleep. That night I had a very quiet and restoring sleep. The next morning I woke to the sound of the bell. I rose and went to see my Hermit straight away. I bowed to him to say good morning; he was already awake.

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During the night, my Hermit had opened his arms; his seeds were scattered on the table. He was revealing to me a secret that yesterday he kept for himself alone. Deeply moved, I joined my palms together and said, "My dear Hermit, now I can say to you 'yes' and 'thank you' ! I vow to take care of every seed and with your wisdom inside of me I'll be able to water the seeds worth growing and to let the others sleep in their shells. The seeds are all the same, there isn't any difference among them. Now I'm going to the morning meditation. Please feel free to take all the forms your wisdom suggests, for I will recognize you."

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Erika Manzan is a member of Rome's Sangha. In recent years, she has almost completely lost her eyesight.

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