Humans are community animals. We attempt to create systems and definitions of the world around us that create a framework of interconnections, relationships, and social exchanges. If this were not true, there would not be a need for such things as monasteries, hermitages, and retreats to step outside of the normal day-to-day framework. This conflict is another one of those dualities or paradoxes that arise during the normal course of existence in the world.
In many ways, these two paths extend throughout history, stretching into the future. Neither is a straight path, sometimes crossing, sometimes moving away from each other. The paths we end up on is a combination of choice and circumstance with the start of this life’s journey not always the same as the one we are on when we move to the next life.
Family and community offer a chance to hear the voices around us, to interact with a myriad of souls both bright and dark, and to see the web of connections that is humanity. Setting alone, often in nature, allows the hermit or sage to see the Tao at work among the vast expanse of nature and to understand the pathway inside each of us. Neither pathway is better or worse than the other and requires a personal choice to make.
This draws us back to the original paradox…life is both individual and multifaceted. In some ways, this is the point of the Yin Yang, the balance of life and death, dark within light, the individual standing among the community.