Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Around the Fire

We receive many private notes each week.  I think of them as addressed to the house and not to me. 

Often the notes are heartbreakingly beautiful.  They are almost never anonymous, yet their writers seldom wish to be published or named. 

A private message was forwarded on to me today, asking why I am doing this and what we are doing here on the internet.  It is a good question.  I have been asked it before, and have never known how to answer.  Or as my husband would say, I can answer some of the "why," but not the "wherefore."

Perhaps tonight you have given me the answer.  Innermost House is my world, but it is not of the world.  Nothing and no one enters here who has not abandoned some hope of ordinary worldly strength, the kind of strength that relies for its identity on ordinary wealth and power and position.  

I have observed it many times.  It is a place where the seeming strong are often weak, and the weak are sometimes truly strong.  Sometimes of course the strong without are strong within as well.  But even then in some way I find difficult to explain, they lead with their innocence in Innermost House, and in unguarded openness all are strong in the Conversation.

I sit and read these words from Ember, and for a moment I cannot move

"I fear my fellow human beings, and I fear destitution."  

Those wordsfrom an established author of holy books.  Those wordsin this world.  I think they must be among the bravest words I have ever seen written by a living human being.

I read on and Suzanne agrees with Ember, with an exclamation!  I read on, and Al agrees too.  Before the onlooking world, a man!

People come to the house in darkness to sit around the fire.  In the light of the fire that shines out from the caves of our earliest beginnings, we are illuminated inwardly.  But only inwardly.  The darkness to which we turn our backs is the outward world.

At Innermost House we sometimes speak of a guest as being not yet "around the fire."  We mean she is not yet here, she has not yet abandoned hope of worldly strength.  In her mind she still stands at the door.

"Wherefore" do I now appear after these months of silence?  I still am not sure how to answer.  But then I read your words again.  I speak here now to meet you where you are. 


  1. I, too, have that fear of destitution. Today was the first time in 29 years of paying on this house that I did not make the payment by the 15th. It may be that I am entering a time of home leaving and home seeking, myself. My home has not been beautiful and peaceful like Innermost House, and yet it is what I know, so I am afraid to lose it. I think that attachment often brings pain and detachment often brings peace, but I seem unable to detach. I tend to be possessive. I wish I could have that freedom from fear that is mentioned in Peace Pilgrim's quote above. I understand that she says it comes from God, but I also think for her it was in part from having no possessions. What does the song say? - "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose." I think it's more than that, but I definitely see freedom from attachment to house, stuff, and my "story" as a step in the right direction. Now I just have to figure out how to make that happen, or how to let it happen.-Gale

  2. I think in Peace Pilgrim's case her lack of fear also came from having no dependants. Both she and the examples Ruth gives offer pictures of individuals travelling alone. This creates its own vulnerabilities of course. But having lived in situations where the stability of my family home depended on the gift of others, I would not willingly do so again.
    When before I lost my home and income, it was connected with my first husband leaving - so the marriage was lost too. No support was forthcoming. Yes indeed, the Lord provided for us, and living "by faith" had been integral to our family arrangements since forever. But living in the empty house that had been our home, all the furniture disposed of, just living in the one room with my children while I worked out my time until I could leave, then insisting to my oldest child "Go, you have to go - no, you must find somewhere, you can't stay here - we are all going to be leaving soon" - then the years when we were scattered and living hand-to-mouth - I would not willingly repeat these experiences. As things are now, I have very few possessions. I could not carry them in one bag but they would go in a car with room for passengers.
    Occasionally one hears of individuals like Peace Pilgrim, but it is not prudent to romanticise about one's ability to live in a similar manner. This takes great fortitude, and if one has dependants it implies forcing one's dreams upon them. To live simply is a blessed thing, but to create security and stability is a blessing too. I find there is usually plenty of room left for God's help and intervention. I think God could probably even manage to ooze in round the edges of a double glazing unit. Though I like to live with an open door just to be sure.

    1. From what I remember of her story, Peace Pilgrim had a strong support team. Her friends arranged accommodation, fresh clothing, showers, and meals for her ahead of time, and often came to meet her as she approached a new town. I have no desire at all to belittle her faith - yet it seems plain to me that explicit trust in God/providence depends on the willingness of people to supply resources and reach out in love. This can be a hangup for those who've experienced the dark and brutal side of humanity.

      In my darkest time, I was helped by people who reached out to me, and who gifted me money, time, transport, and their labour, and it is not straining the truth to say that my life was very likely saved by the intervention of my helpers, so I am well aware that, as Ember says, God could manage to ooze in around the edges of a double-glazed unit. My undying gratitude to these people keeps me paying forward, in time, energy, money, information, and skills, when I encounter a need.

      This brings me to something that might be a tad touchy; it’s not meant unkindly, but IH was built on land provided by somebody who bought it out of his worldly earnings, and went to extraordinary lengths to keep it alive. Other innermost houses have been built the same way, in partnerships in which the spiritual and material resources of the partners were used in synergy to bring to birth something wonderful and lovely.

      Jesus and the apostles were fed, housed, and clothed, by people who gave out of their pittances or their abundances. The meat and bread brought to Elijah by the ravens were cooked by an actual human being. The Buddha was grateful for any food – it was grown or purchased, and prepared, by a human. Earthly, material stuff does not miraculously materialize before the eyes!

      There is nothing inherently unspiritual in right living within the "world". It is the blind, selfish pursuit of power, status, and wealth, that rot self, soul, and society.

      What I'm getting at is that the paths are complementary, as intricately intertwined as light and dark. Those within the world may well see, recognize, and value the fire in the cave, and come to it for restoration, while the cave and the wood themselves may be provided, freely, by others within the world. Who gives, who receives? Surely both groups both give and receive?

      There are many ways of living in the world. Many of us have chosen paths that fulfil our needs without pursuing the big salary or the corner office. Many of us have deliberately stepped out of high-status-bright-future roads to hike those less travelled. We are usually scorned for being worldly failures! Yet we may also be scorned for being worldly in seeking security through fixed employment with steady salary and benefits, or home ownership, however humble those may be.

      Depending on who we are, life without the research laboratory, or the lecture podium, or the design office, or the university library, or the big sales contract, or the sashay down the catwalk, would be bleak indeed.

      In my own life, I have a very deep sense of awe, wonder, and spiritual oneness through very earthly things. Sometimes I'm startled by a spurt of happy tears when I dig up potatoes and see them lying on the soil like so many pink or yellow precious nuggets! Getting eggs from a henhouse, or slicing a basket of tomatoes still warm from the sun in my own garden also saturates me with delight. The sweetness of a cow's breath, blown over me while I milk, is pure pleasure. These are as much a part of that infinite beauty and grandeur of which Charles Darwin spoke as the stars whirling in the vacuum of space, or the waves ceaselessly swashing ashore, or the breeze and the sunlight in the redwood tops.

      I think anybody within this Innermost House community is already around the fire - we have the discernment and the spiritual frequency to resonate with the values of the cave and the fire, and that makes us kin.

    2. What a beautiful, heartfelt post! Thank you, Suz!

  3. Amendment, as this is a public place; when I say "no support was forthcoming", I meant that my ex-husband had not the means to support us through the transition. His father and my mother were immensely generous in helping us, and various friends were kind in offering work or gifts of money while we got on our feet.

  4. Unguarded openness sounds terrifying. To expose and share our deepest fears, insecurities, pain, hopes and dreams seems so risky, if not dangerous. Those around us are always judging us, manipulating us, examining us and making demands on us. I can understand why it would be hard for many, and impossible for others, to sit around the fire. To have a place and partners where one can open their soul in safety and comfort must be a joyful, enlightening and uplifting thing.

  5. I was afraid, too, for most of my life. Many years ago I finally was able to trace my fears for survival back to my childhood belief that the world must be a very dangerous, scary, unstable place if my own mother who was supposed to be my protector and caregiver was unwilling to leave an abusive marriage because she thought that it was a safer environment for all of us to remain in than out on our own in the world with no way for her to care for us. And, as far as the fear of destitution goes, my father was a salesman who worked on commission, and one of the earliest messages about money I received when I was given my weekly allowance was "Take it while the going is good because we don't know if there will be money tomorrow." This was said despite the fact that we always lived quite well with plenty of food, nice vacations, and a lovely home. With that kind of poverty mentality ingrained in my psyche, as an adult caring for my own children I spent many, many sleepless nights worrying about the potential for personal fiscal disaster, real or imagined. I worried most about having enough to eat. During the war years in early 2000 (was it the war in Afghanistan or Iraq?), my basement looked like a bunker with enough stored food supplies to last several months for four people, even though only my husband and myself lived in the home. Somehow though, my fear has, for the most part, dropped away over the past twelve intervening years and I've relaxed more consistently into the present moment. I no longer tend to worry about what may or may not happen, and if I occasionally find myself 'going' there I gently redirect my attention back to the sensations of my body (the mind can only focus on one thing at a time and focusing on the kinesthetic sensations of the body takes me out of my head) and the anchor of the present moment where the eternal 'I' of me is always just fine, regardless of outer circumstances. I figure that if worse comes to worse, things will unfold exactly as they are meant to and I don't have to perseverate over what I can do to control them or prevent them from happening. I have enough faith now to believe that I'll just deal with it as best as I can as it arises and that there will be help for me if I cannot do it on my own. I have finally relaxed into a deep knowing and abiding trust that who I am can never be destroyed, regardless of what happens or doesn't happen to me in my life. What a great sigh of relief it is to finally stop being my own worst enemy. It's like I can finally take a deep breath and just chill!

    1. Let me add here as a qualifying addendum, that unlike Ember and others who may have experienced the cataclysmic economic and emotional changes that occur through divorce or the death of a spouse, I have not had to deal with such a tremendous upheaval in my life as yet. I have no doubt that my inner equanimity would be as sorely tested as theirs were and perhaps I would revert back to my old style of worrying if the stress were as overwhelming as theirs was. We all do the best we can when faced wtih trials, and sometimes a lot of our coping capacity has to do with how much is thrust upon us at any one time.

  6. I am not yet "around the fire" but I am moving towards it.

    One of my favorite quotes is by Albert Einstein, "In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity." Not always easy to remember at the time but a comfort when it is recalled to mind.

    Thank you all for your wise and wholehearted words here.

    Diana, your posts are so inspiring. Thank you for sharing the journey with us and offering a place by the fire.

  7. I came across a word today that I didn't know, but I think is relevant to the Conversation. I imagine Diana is already familiar with it: Dhuni.

    From Wikipedia:

    A dhuni is (according to the dharmic religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, etc.) a sacred site represented as a cleft in the ground. This cleft is emblematic of the yoni or female vulva and generative organ. A dhuni therefore represents a site of worship dedicated to Shakti.

    A dhuni is worshipped by spiritual intention and the kindling of a flame inside it. Suitable materials are offered to the dhuni and consumed by the heat or flame. This represents the eternal process of change and transformation on all levels of existence.

    "Like a river, a dhuni is always changing. Each dhuni also has its own personality that is as much subject to moods as a person. The glow of the dhuni is both a receiver and a transmitter, and like a screen on which Rorschach-like images are projected, it delivers a code".[1]

    As the yoni is the nexus from which all manifest beings come into this world, the worship of the dhuni represents a sacred nexus for the path of return from the physical to spiritual level. This is an intentional process of inversion or return to our spiritual source. The dhuni is a sacred site and focal point for this form of spiritual exertion or sadhana.

    Aside from the offering of sacred fuel to a dhuni, mantras are also offered, as well as the sounds of diverse musical instruments and ecstatic dance and gesture.

    Although several cultures retain traditions of fire worship (out of which the zorastrianism is perhaps the most famous), a unique feature of the dhuni tradition is that it is the dhuni, the actual site itself which is considered sacred, not exclusively the fire kindled within it.

  8. Hi Diana,
    Thanks for sharing the fire, and making a big enough place for all of us to sit around it together.


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