Thursday, August 9, 2012

At Peace In The Woods


A year ago or so ago I found myself writing that I wasn't sure I possessed what is ordinarily called a conscience.  That was in response to a definition of religion as "something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience."

My earnest niece wrote to me about it.  I don't think I'd say she was exactly concerned for my soul, but she was interested.

It may sound strange, but I cannot grasp and hold on to the wholeness of worldly good and evil.  I couldn’t when I was a child, and I still cannot.  The distinction breaks apart for me, too far apart to hold, too far to bear. 

Life is good and death is evil.  Light is good and dark is evil.  More is good and less is evil.  Progress is good and the past is evil.  The modern world that appears normal and inevitable to most others, to me is a heartbreaking drama of good that is too good to be true, and evil that is too evil.  

It is normal and even essential to have a conscience, I know.  But there was a time in all our lives when none of us had one.  In the beginning, before we knew of the difference between good and evil, there was no good and evil in us.  When we bend over a cradle, I think what we worship in the eyes of an infant child is the mind before conscience.

It isn't quite that I don’t have a conscience, it is more that the conscience I have doesn’t seem to agree with the world, and never has.  The conscience I was born with set me at odds from the beginning with ordinary conscientious behavior.   I finally reformed my whole world to conform to my sense of a good that precedes good and evil.  My Innermost Life is my conscience now.

I stand at the window of the house in my mind and look out on the world where I live.  My life in the woods is arrayed all around me, a living oneness of life and death.  I see moist earth and clear sky, forest oaks and fallen leaves, long shadows and autumn light.  Where in this is good and evil?

I turn to look at the world inside.  There is the hearth of brick and ash and wood and fire. There are the books I have lived with and loved so long, the Pooh books and the poetry and the Encyclopaedia.   Here is a oneness of reason and feeling.  Where in this is good and evil?

I think of our plain meals prepared in one iron pot over the ash and coals.  I think of a lifetime of conversation with my husband about things beautiful and true and deep and high.  I think of the happiness I have come to know at the heart of this simple life.  Where in all this is good and evil?

In a way Innermost House is my embodied conscience.  It is a boundary formed by me around my innermost nature, a "womb with a view," as one visitor said.  Where the world of good and evil is the unavoidable context of life, then conscience perhaps is the inner guide.  But I know of my own experience that it is possible to so concentrate one’s life to a simple whole that there is no place for conscience, no room for good and evil.

It is not easy to know what is right and wrong in a world as complex as ours today.  I have never known.  Conscience requires a kind of prudence, a means of weighing alternative courses over time, a sense of the before and after of things.  It requires that you think of cause and effect, of consequences that will follow an act—either in this world or another. 

No one who knows me would say that I have any grasp of worldly tact or prudence.  I am incapable of effectively planning things.  I am stuck in the present moment, without ordinary memory and without an ordinary sense of consequences.

To me the Innermost Life belongs to the original Goodness, the condition of life that precedes good and evil in the beginning—and perhaps succeeds it in the end.  Before and after, darkness and light, earth and heaven, bird and beast and feminine and masculine:  the Innermost Life is my name for that place within us where all fits together and is good.  It is where even the innerness of conscience would be an imposition from outside.

“And behold, it was very good.”  And it is good.  In the woods I am one with my world and at ease with myself, not in obedience to my conscience, not even because I live a religious life.  I am at peace in the woods because nowhere do I find there the difference between good and evil.

25 comments:

  1. It is hard to comment upon this, in a way because then it will seem that I am finding fault with your stated feelings.
    But, we are all different, which is a blessing in itself.
    Conscience? There might be many interpretations
    and definitions of the word, but at the risk of incurring your ire, I would argue that you do indeed possess one, but don't necessarily put a label upon it, but instinctively practice a moral code that is ingrained in you.
    Some demonstrate a more aggressive assertation of their beliefs, I believe it is called having the passion of one's convictions...
    Each of us has gone down our own roads and evolved an approach, a guiding set of rules, a moral code that we adhere to. Some stay within the legal and moral boundaries only because of fear of the consequences, but I firmly believe that we have in us, a preponderance towards good.

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  2. If one operates out of ego, a belief in separation between self and other, then the concept of a conscience makes perfect sense. If, however, one has dissolved identification with the ego and rests in the wholeness of just One thing, there is no need for a conscience because conscience presupposes the choice of one way of acting over another, whereas the egoless state is choiceless awareness that holds all things equally good and inseparable from the whole. Diana, how amazing that you were born this way!

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  3. Diana, thank you.

    Your words about what we see in an infants eyes created a pause in my day that was much needed ~

    As I age and experience life more, I too have turned to examining the duality in/of life. Recognizing the balance that is created on its own by being present needless to say has been humbling. It seems its what we are almost forced to rely on ~ and that too creates more questioning.

    Lydia

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  4. Dear Diana,
    Thank you so very much for this beautiful description of you. I am lacking the words to adequately comment on it. I found a passage by Joel Goldsmith from his book "Living Between Two Worlds", where he describes what you describe. Maybe you are interested in reading it:
    "Your dominion in your home or any other place consists in the truth that what is called "this world" exists only in your thought. Out here, sin, disease, death, lack, and limitation do not exist. If you are experiencing them, you are experiencing them in your own thought and projecting the image outwardly. It is like a moving picture. The picture is actually on the film, but it is projected onto the screen, and, if you did not know better, you would think the picture is on the screen, when it really is on the film. In our ignorance we think that there are sick and sinning people out here. No, they are in your own thought. That is the only place they exist--no other place. The proof of that is that when someone turns to an enlightened consciousness, one that does not accept sin or disease, the image or picture dissolves and disappears."
    You are this person with an enlightened consciousness, who can see the world in a different light. I am so honored to know you.
    Ruth

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  5. I am extremely disturbed by the post.

    so·ci·o·path/ˈsōsēōˌpaTH/
    Noun:
    A person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behavior and a lack of conscience.

    Diana,

    You have been beginning and re-beginning every day. You are under heavy stress. I am worried still about you.

    I send you all the peace, tranquility, serenity, joy, and love I have.

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    1. That is unkind- and also untrue. Diana is not a sociopath. It seems she doesn't experience her conscience in the dictionary sense, but from her writings it's clear that one of her beliefs is not to do harm..............

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    2. in truth, we know nothing about diana except our own projections onto her.... nobody can really speak about what diana is, or isn't... it seems that she is merely following the ways of many who have sought a spiritual path throughout history.... nothing new,nothing extraordinary... many people live life this way, in a seeking mode....

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    3. Diana is not a sociopath. She is exploring the difference between duality and non-duality. If that's socio-pathological, the entire Buddhist and Taoist worlds, known for their gentleness and integration, would also be socio-pathological. I think you were over-hasty to comment, friend. Reflect?

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    4. D.B., Your comment made me think of Diana in the video of IH say very sweetly, "A Luddite? Oh dear. No, I am not a Luddite." She might well use the same approach and with a smile in her voice reply "A sociopath? Oh dear. No, I am not a sociopath." In my estimation, Diana is a living example of what it means to live sanely. It's the rest of us who have forgotten what she appears to have intuitively known since birth. I, for one, am grateful to have stumbled upon her. There is so much I can learn from her about her way of being in the world and in the midst of her own life.

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    5. I should have remained quietly in the balcony about this post--that is, if I didn't care.

      Please note--I only presented the textbook definition of a sociopath and said that I was still worried about Diana. I did not label her a sociopath. If I thought she was a sociopath, I would not be here daily. However, she presented herself as one by definition in the post. The post read alone by a psych would probably meet clinical definitions.

      However, I do find it severely troubling that she does not think she has an intrinsic hard-wired conscience. Animals have them. When lions fight and one shows submissive behavior (presenting the neck to the other) the alpha does not kill it. Innate morality--conscience. I could go on and on.

      Upon reviewing the post again, I think Diana simply had a lack of precision in her writing when she stated she has a lack of conscience. There must be a better way to describe whatever it is she is getting at. I am certain she would feel guilty for committing a multitude of acts. Guilt=a normal everyday conscience.

      As an invited newcomer to this page, I don't have a long history with the Conversation and I am one of honest candor. So I spoke.

      And as for who am I to judge Diana? I am not trying to judge. This is supposed to be conversation and she is putting this stuff out into the world to start discussion.

      Also, Innermost House has been on a few other tiny house sites lately that I assume are driving quite a bit of traffic to the Innermost House site and if a newcomer read just this post and knows the standard definition of sociopath, um well . . .

      And if I didn't really like Innermost House and what I have read and learned of you all--Diana, Al, Pam, Ember, Leah, Ruth. I wouldn't bother with all of this, I would simply abscond.

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  6. Diana, what a beautiful, sacred way to live. Thank you for your ongoing multifaceted descriptions of your inner state. I've even begun doing some lucid dreaming about these posts!

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  7. Oops, I stopped too soon. The next paragraph also pertains to what you said:
    "You may say that you are sick, in sin, in poverty. But I cannot accept that because I have already accepted the Bible which says that God made all that was made and all that God made is good and anything that God did not make was not made. Therefore, there can be no such thing as evil, sin, disease, or death..."
    Ruth

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  8. The good/evil duality you describe, Diana, draws from the Judaeo-Christian world view. It helps to understand there were two strands in the development of this, the Abraham strand and the Zoroaster (or Zarathustra) strand.
    The Zoroastrian world view was dominant in world religion when the biblical texts were forming.
    Zoroaster believed life to be a battle between opposing deities: Angra Mainyu, the god of darkness, death, dirt, disease and disorder; and Ahura Mazda, the god of light, health, well-being and order.
    In Zoroastrianism each action of every one of us strikes a blow in that battle for one side or another, and the invisible world is thronged with opposing forces of angels and demons.
    You can see at once that Christianity in its formation was influenced by this world view.
    Abraham saw things differently. He believed the world, life and God to be One - not dualistic.
    In the ancient world, the Zoroastrians were very good to the sons of Abraham, and the relationship between them was cordial.
    You can read in the book of Isaiah the prophet's gentle refutation to Cyrus of Persia (Zoroastrian = Parsee = from Persia) of the dualistic world view. The prophet speaks as the voice of God, saying:
    "I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things." (Isaiah 45:6-7)
    In verse 5, he says, "I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches hidden in mystery," underlining that God is at ease with darkness as with light, with those aspects of creation we call "evil" (slugs, bacteria, shadows, winter, night) as well as those we call good (flowers, fruit, sunshine, clean water).
    The rallying cry of the sons of Abraham was "Hear O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One."

    It is also true, however, that Jesus said "You cannot serve God and Mammon."
    God created all things good, all the works of his hand are blessed. How could he do otherwise? There is nothing to make evil out of but the good that God has created. "Evil" is mis-channelled energy, perverted good, capable of redemption.
    What the prophets of the ancient Hebrews saw as evil was greed, hoarding, and lack of compassion for the poor,the widow, the orphan and the stranger:
    Examples are Isaiah 5:8, "Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land," and Amos 8:4,6-7, "Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land,boosting the price... and cheating with dishonest scales,buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat. The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: ‘I will never forget anything they have done.’ He predicts calamity resulting from such behaviour.

    So it is fair to say that the Abraham biblical strand (which I espouse) sees good and evil in the world, in terms of compassion versus exploitation, but in creation and life itself finds no duality.

    Sorry to go on so long, hope it is interesting to you.

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    1. Ember, Thanks for this historical explanation of the Judeo-Christian world view. I really did't know anything about this evolution of Western religion and found it very informative.

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    2. Ember,

      The verse from Isiah, unless I am mistaken, is the only place in the Bible where "God" admits to being light and dark. And it is a very controversial verse because of the dogmatic implications with "Satan"--doesn't really leave a whole lot a room for the dark underlord if god is already the dark one.

      I've always loved that verse because I am not a Christian but do cherish the Bible and have a fixation with light and dark and that verse opened the Bible to me.

      I can't believe you summoned it.

      Deep thanks. Makes me feel like the universe wants me to continue in the Conversation even if I am the grumpy one around here.

      With kindest regard,
      D.

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  9. I am reminded of Animals by Walt Whitman


    I think i could turn and live with animals ,
    they are so placid and self-contained
    I stand and look at them long and long .

    They do not sweat and whine about their condition ,
    They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins ,
    They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God ,
    Not one is dissatisfied ,
    not one is demented with the mania of owning things ,
    Not one kneels to another ,
    nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago ,
    Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth .


    What a beautiful animal you are, Diana!

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  10. Thank you Ember, I totally agree. I also agree with Diana, "In the woods I am one with my world and at ease with myself" I am a Christian but read the words for myself and feel communion with God more in His creation then in a building. Sean thanks for sharing the poem it is one I like as well and fits this conversation well.

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  11. I'm trying to grasp this, but as usual, it's beyond me. Humans have free will and we make choices, even if we choose to live the simplest life possible. I don't think I agree with D.B.'s take on lions or even Sean's Whitman poem. I think animals are driven mostly by instincts evolved over eons. People are different.

    There is plenty of good and evil in the world. We can try to isolate ourselves from it, and up to a point, this is a good idea. As Diana indicated with the AA motto, we need the wisdom to differentiate between the things we can change and the things we can't.

    This brings me back to a question about the innermost life I've asked a few times. The world is out there, no matter how far we may retreat. That world may impose itself on us no matter how much we want to live away from it all. Also, will our conscience (if we have one) allow us to hide away and allow evil and injustice to have their way with the world?

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    1. Al, if I may I will answer your question here for myself. I don't know what Diana's view would be.
      What I am inspired by in Diana's Innermost House is the creation of a tiny world in which all is good. Nothing there is troubling to her conscience, nothing requires her conscience to be exercise. I aspire towards my own Innermost House - where nothing in the space is troubling to my conscience.
      I am reminded of studies showing that willpower is best modelled as an expendable resource. In simpler words: if a person is trying hard to stick to something, that means there is less willpower available to make an effort at anything else. Like, it’s easier not to eat junk food if you don’t have it in the house. So, Diana created a place where it was easy to live just as she wished – not to be troubled by the confusions of the world, so she can concentrate on the conversation.
      So I am getting to the part of your question about whether we can allow ourselves to hide away. I think for some of us there is a difficult choice to be made. Too much time with insensitive and hostile people can make us ill, or otherwise unable to manage the ordinary things of life. The difficulties of living in the world with all those crazy ways cause daily suffering, which can prevent even the exercise of reason. So it would seem necessary to withdraw, at least to some extent. To do this, it would be necessary either to trust the other human beings not to forget us, not to forget our needs; or maybe, to trust God, defender of the helpless, to take our cause.
      I think it depends on what is important to each of us. I believe that God’s project is ‘Shalom’ (in Noel Moules’ words). I may not be able to influence other humans in conventional political ways – but perhaps I can live as a counter-sign, evidence that Business As Usual is not the only way. Fellowships of folks drawn to a new way of living can be supportive – amongst us there will be folks more and less able to write, to speak, to advocate and argue, and perhaps those connections will be part of God’s shield if we pursue righteousness – it may be that we can speak out for one another.

      To me, human society as it is – eating up the very life-support systems of the earth, laying waste to the lives of humans in millions and all other kinds of beings – is profoundly dis-eased. We must each find our own place in relation to it. For some, at some times, like Diana over the past seven years, that has meant withdrawal from many aspects of society. For others, it might mean something more like JM Greer’s ‘Green Wizards’ programme, where people equip themselves to carry skills forward though his time of madness, to the time when their utility is recognized after the age of oil. Living a life of outward poverty and inward richness is a good defence against those who would rob; and having skills that make us more valuable alive and happy than wounded or dead is another defence which some of us can employ. Another path still might be to engage deeply with other humans, calling them to recognize what is within, helping them wake up, like the Pachamama Alliance’s ‘Awakening the Dreamer’ symposiums, or Joanna Macy’s ‘Work that reconnects’, or many other forms. There are other people of good will, and more robust nerves, who are able to work for change right in the heart of human society, and we can be their friends, supporting them in making the changes they can see to be made.

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    2. Each of us is different. I think perhaps we can only inspire each other – every person must walk the road of peace for themselves. For me, it helps to know I am not alone – all of you who recognize the beauty of IH help me feel accompanied in my journey. I think the journey involves knowing who we are – knowing what we must do ourselves. Others on the edge of our lives might take the journey, or they might not. It is not up to me whether others chose to take the road of peace or to continue with the crazy. I can’t do anything about what they chose – each must take their own road. I begin to see that all I can do, is take the road that is for me – which if I am able to be faithful, will be God’s road of Shalom - whatever that might look like. That’s not something we can control – each person must make their own choice. I have been inspired by Diana not to spend my life waiting for others to come too. I must go, to the life that is less painful, whether others hear the call or not. Perhaps a life lived in obscurity with real heart and soul integrity can have some effect on the world that is not obvious.
      I know I have attended big Quaker gatherings in the past and been so overwhelmed by all the people and the noise that I am not able to do much other than hover around the edges . I stay as close as I am able, pray a lot and ground myself deeply in the healing waters of the Holy Spirit, and sometimes I am able to offer a meal, or a listening ear, or just a smile to people who are in need. My prayers and my willingness to by faithful in my small way, I understand to have a real effect.
      Perhaps industrial society needs a thousand new refusers at this time, and that is why Diana has stepped out to call to us with the possibility she has created. I think many humans are instead determined to trust in oil and industry and human cleverness, and that they will continue the breaking of the world as long as they have strength. That is not what I can see as right, but who is to know what is right? I can only do what is shown me.
      It may be that a time of withdrawal is preparation which equips us for a different kind of engagement – ministers in the Quaker tradition often go through a period of preparation, and afterward sometimes went on missions for example to preach to the Grand Turk (like Mary Fisher), or to remonstrate with Massachussetts Puritans over their harshness to those who saw differently (Mary Dyer). It might be that we are called to live out on the edge our whole lives, offering a gentle ministry to one human who comes calling in the last week of our lives that could have an effect we will never see or know. Perhaps if the world comes to trouble us we will be equipped to testify to the divine assistance that allows us to reject the values of consumer-media-culture. For me, these questions are too big. I cannot know the whole picture. But I am beginning to have a sense that I am supposed to be as I am; and that I can build a life that doesn’t hurt so much; and that to do so is a kind of faithfulness which will have a place in the larger picture.

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    3. This is wonderful, Alice. You should prepare a guest post!

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  12. Diana wrote: "..I wasn't sure I possessed what is ordinarily called a conscience. That was in response to a definition of religion as "something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience."

    Diana, do you think that you feel this way because you live day by day, moment by moment, following the messages that your logic or perhaps your inner self say to you?

    I do subscribe with the idea that we need not worry as what others think about what we say and do.. assuming we are truly in touch with our inner wisdom and acting out of love for ourselves and others... but that is difficult to do when we are inadvertently hurting or disappointing others. It may be helpful to ask what you would do in certain circumstances:

    1. What would you do if you witnessed a child, who looked very poor, steal a piece of fruit? Would you allow the child's actions to go unchecked? Or, would you perhaps bring it to the attention of the store owner and maybe offer to pay for the item.. but risk the child getting in trouble with his/her parent(s) or the shopkeeper?

    2. Let us say that you and Michael had planned an important outing that required extensive planning and financial commitment but last minute you really didn't feel that it was the right thing for you to do.. perhaps you were really making headway writing or felt you would benefit from a walk instead of sitting at the outing and just didn't feel like you wanted to do the planned outing anymore. Would you go anyway if Michael wanted you to because it pleases you to keep Michael happy or would you follow your impulse to do something else?
    Now, if Michael is not the type of person to mind a complete change of plans despite the financial loss, than perhaps this isn't an issue.

    3. Last scenario: What if you suddenly felt that you needed time to yourself, time to live by yourself and be with another person or people (just in conversation) and experience time away from Michael? What if Michael was (calmly and rationally)opposed to this idea for personal, real reasons but you felt strongly that it was important for your emotional or spiritual growth. Would you feel still do it? And would you feel bad to disappoint Michael? Would you try to find a compromise?

    Whatever one would answer to these questions, is it not one's conscience telling us what feels right in this situation? Do we not feel some guilt in disappointing or not helping the other person?

    MojoMan, you make important points that humans have free will and the question here is, would Diana make a personal choice that is better for her even though it is (by her lights) unfortunate for another person?

    I personally look at the harm and hurt in the world as being done by individuals who are ill with a chemical imbalance or unresolved anger, etc. and they are not really themselves. I do not believe they are "evil" or that there is "evil" in the world. Just sickness. I also recognize that I don't have the time or means to help every sick individual. But perhaps people like ourselves are overwhelmed by the sickness in the world and choose to create distance from it. Living in the woods can be therapy and it can be inspirational for creativity, but it can also be an escape. --I make no assumptions what it is for any other person. But these choices in our lives are guided by something.. or else we might all be butting in line at the bank or grocery store, for example. Something is telling us what we need as well as what is socially correct.. it is just that our moral code and our level of connection to humanity varies from person to person.

    And finally, our own health or lack of health may change our ability to care for or about others. When we are physically ill or challenged, we must look out for ourselves. As we get stronger and less sensitive, we may be able to deal with others and the world in a more relaxed, rational way.

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  13. If I may add to that extremely long post of mine :) ...
    I wonder, Diana, if you are simply saying that you reserve the right to choose to do things your way and change your mind when ever it feels right to do so without a feeling of responsibility to others or even a responsibility to yourself to keep your word, for example. In your way, you live completely in the moment and answer only to your highest self.

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