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Archetype of the Ascetic/Hermit

In his book Sex – Death – Enlightenment Mark Matousek tells how his direction in life was completely turned around when he saw signs of the Aid’s virus in a close friend, and realised he might have the virus himself. From someone totally immersed in the world of competitive New York work, sex and money making, he became more of an ascetic and hermit. Illness, loss, death, often turn people around to meet an aspect of themselves which is an archetypal form of behaviour – that of the person whose awareness is turned toward the non-material, toward realising themselves as part of something universal, toward the possibility of meeting a deathless self, toward a withdrawal or even avoidance of social life and involvement with others.

The archetype of the ascetic or monk is latent in each of us. As a form of human behaviour it has an immensely long history and is seen in all cultures. It may even be that some animals exhibit it, as in many chimpanzee groups, there is a ‘monk’ who lives alone and refrains from the activities of his group. In dreams and visions, the ascetic links us with experience that comes from beyond our personal life and memories. It arises out of a sense of connection with something that unites all the separate people, creatures and objects in the universe. Our relationship with the ascetic or monk depicts our involvement with the rest of life and with this sense of the Whole. In action it may point to a turning of the energies usually expressed in outward action and ambition in a new direction, usually inward toward self exploration or understanding. Perhaps the newly directed energy now goes toward self transformation. Part of this new direction is often the discipline of the mind, emotions and even sexuality.

The monk can also depict turning away from everyday life, the rejection of what the world offers, or a fear of or sense of inadequacy in connection with external life and society and sex. Difficulties with or withdrawal from sex frequently play some part in this drawing back from life. Sometimes this arises out of feelings of pain or alienation of some sort, or rejection of the sexual roles.

Withdrawal does not of course always mean ineffectiveness. Monks have in the past, and in some countries still do, form very large parts of a community, and have been and are great and effective workers in certain areas.

At a personal level the ascetic may connect with feelings of pain or failure in our experience of how we relate to sex or society. Through such pains we may have withdrawn our enthusiasm or involvement in what life offers. Positively it represents an internal question we may be unconsciously asking – what is the value of worldly goods, of worldly activities? What or who am I? Am I anything other than this changing body and constantly shifting emotions and thoughts? The denial of personal urges and hungers can lead to strength and ability to stand independently of the needs that control most people. It can also be an expression of fear and weakness, as when a person becomes anorexic through denial of their need to eat. The redirection of our energy can flow in two major directions. Negatively it can bring to life all the neuroses latent in the personal make-up. Or the can use the energy like a wonder tool to meet and transform the neuroses into more available energy and break through into a wider world of possibilities. See archetype of the outsider.

Useful Questions and Hints:

Is the ascetic influencing the way you relate to the world and people?

Are there difficulties I experience relating to sex or relationship – or do I feel repulsed by either of these?

Is my ascetic one that leads me to an awareness of unity and the world of mind beyond the limitations of my waking personality?

What if anything have I gained from my ascetic?

To explore more fully the meaning of your dream see Processing Dreams.

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