The second kind is that of Anchorites, or Hermits, that is, of those who, no longer in the first fervor of their conversion, but taught by long monastic practice and the help of many brethren, have already learned to fight against the devil; and going forth from the rank of their brethren well trained for single combat in the desert, they are able, with the help of God, to cope single-handed without the help of others, against the vices of the flesh and evil thoughts." - Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 1.
We who live in the United States are immersed in a culture of individualism. Take a look at our cultural heros and myths. Among them you'll find the cowboy, the lone wanderer on the range and the frontiersman, the person pushing the borders of the country outward but who will not tolerate civilization, or the gun fighter, the ruthless, or heroic, man who makes a stand by himself against all odds. The religious life of our country has the same myths. I have lost count of the people who tell me they worship God in nature. "I can be more in touch with God in the woods, than in a church."
The problem is, the myths are false. They place us in situations where we begin to believe that it is bad to depend on others. But the truth is, we are social animals. We find definition in community. It is no accident that among the more barbaric tortures used in the "war on terror" isolation is king. When we are isolated we begin to lose our way. Eventually we begin to hallucinate and eventually we can become psychotic.
It was not an accident that Benedict spoke of those who lived in isolation as a means of following Christ as ones who had first lived in community. The common rule I have heard is that a monk would only be allowed to live in isolation after being in community for twenty-five years. Only then could they have developed sufficient stability to withstand isolation.
When we allow the myth of seeking God by oneself to flourish we are hurting those who believe it. A frequent cliche is that a fire burns brightly on a hearth. But if you take out a single flaming branch, and put it by itself, the fire in it will go out. As is the case for many cliches there is truth in the statement. The Spirit's fire blazes in us more brightly when we blaze with one another.
Yes, you can encounter God in the forest or in prayer by oneself. But unless that is a reflection of the worship of God in community, it is a pale imitation. If you are seeking God alone, I pray you, begin in the company of others. You can find some of those others at Benedictine abbeys, including St. Benedict's Abbey, http://www.SBAbbey.com.
May Christ bless your way and the way you travel with others.