Saturday, August 4, 2012

Lowliness


We begin again.  Shea I am delighted to meet you.  I too have stayed in the old houses and seen the hands of past generations on the walls.  To touch them is like joining hands across the years.

I'm not very good at adding.  I'm better at subtracting.  But even I can see that trying to catch up with such beautiful comments in this way only leaves me further and further behind you.  

So I thought I might start today selecting out a comment to answer more largely, and answering other questions with comments of my own, day to day as they come in.  I hope that will be alright. 

Leah says, "You wrote: 'I want that place and way of life where mind and body live in married union. I have sought it always. I have glimpsed it in a thousand lowly corners of life. I have lived it for years.'Diana, when you said: 'I have glimpsed it in a thousand lowly corners of life.' What do you mean? In my imagination, anywhere that nourishes people to live with mind and body in married union would be a place that would not be described as lowly. So I am confused." 

Dear Leah,  You are not so much confused as I am confusing!  But let me try to say what I mean.

Thirty years ago I went seeking shelter.  I fled the southern California of my birth in search of a relationship to life that I could not describe.  When I look back now I see that what I sought was shelter from the light, and I sought it in darkness.  In my imagination then I called it the "North Woods."

Some people like sunny places and some people like rainy places.  For me it really did not have to do with liking.   I was looking for a whole balance between light and darkness capable of supporting what felt to me like life.  Any life. 

When the balance you are seeking suffers from too much light, you seek it in darkness.  My husband and I were seeking something we called "Place" through those years.  It was our name for an embodied wholeness capable of supporting life from its foundations in earth to the height of high civilization. 

I know that sounds "high."  But the strange thing is that all the trails toward it led us toward darkness, and lessness, and lowliness.  

I think of what Shea said about the hand formed walls.  I have never been able to live for any length of time in a house of plaster board walls without feeling stifled. 

In every way wall board is a "higher" product than hand formed plaster
it requires a more sophisticated science, a higher technology, wider systems of distribution and marketing, it is faster and cheaper and more efficient—but to me it is too high.  It is all light.  There is no darkness.  There is no body.  To touch such a wall isn't like joining hands with past generations.  It just leaves fingerprints to wash off.

Dewey spoke yesterday of something he called "chiaroscuro,"  and I'm glad he brought it up.  I know the word from my husband.  In Italian it literally means "light-dark," and is used to describe a way of drawing and painting with high contrast between light and shadow.  Many people have used that word to describe the photographs of Innermost House.

You might use the word to describe a way of alternating between light and dark periods of your life, but to me that leaves the experience without its inner character of immediacy.   That is what people do in time.  It is normal today for instance to alternate between weekdays of work at the office and weekends camping in nature. 

But that is an experience of alternating between the light and the darkness.  I want a picture.  I want light-dark.  We sought Place, a frame of life where the contrasting elements of light and darkness are equally present at once.

It makes sense that we should have stopped at some midway point where light and dark were in balance.  But that is not what happened.  What we found was that everywhere we wenteven into what appeared from the outside to be the dark placesthe powerful lights of modern life followed us.  It was everywhere, in electric light, in electronic images and music, in walls and floors and ceilings, in airplanes and automobiles and international trade and all the ways we live at home because of them.

It altered the shape of places in a thousand plain and subtle ways.  There is a phrase I read once, "The light that is darkness to our eyes."  The more we looked into the ways of place after place, the more there that light was, all glare and blindness to our eyes. 

My husband found what we sought at last after many lives in many places, but only at what he calls now "the heart of darkness."  He found it in the least of places, and the lowliest.  It was there he finally caught the spark of the light that exists in a place of perfect balance with the dark.  It is from that place that he built Innermost House. 

By lowly I mean humble.  I mean of the earth.  It is where one goes to begin again at the beginning.  I do not know how to grow a civilized life toward the light without first planting its seed in the darkness. 


14 comments:

  1. Beginning again at the beginning. I do like that! Planting a see in the darkness describes my life right now as I plan a difficult move to a more life-supporting place in a hopefully smaller space with less things.

    I am going to begin again at the beginning, creating a new 'career' and living without a lot of -- usually self-made -- responsibilities. The knowledge that we can start over is so comforting even though starting over isn't necessarily easy. But I can tell that many of us here are not choosing the easy way but rather the consciousness-based way. (Sorry, my words fail me sometimes :)

    And I share your desire for a place where there is light and darkness at all times. When every day has a little work, a little adventure and some play, essentially a healthy balance of rest and interesting activity, then there is no need for a vacation!

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  2. Diana, I live in a beautiful cabin in the woods next to a creek, but it is all electrified. The times when the electricity has gone out are the only times that I have finally come "alive". I have honestly only ever met myself face to face under a dark sky with no electricity. So, at night, I go away from my home and bathe in the creek and sometimes sleep beside it and know myself. It is on these nights that I amaze me. I think,"Thank God. I have not died. I exist." The house is too buzzy and hummy to suit me. All of the goodies that others set so much store by only take me away from my own self--and I need my own self in times like these...

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    1. Julie, I love this post..,I live in an old farmhouse built in 1834, and often find myself even after being there many years, admiring and appreciating the craftsmanship of the wood work surrounding the windows, the mantles, the floors, all the wonderful detail and attention that was given to houses back then. But like you, I am often bothered by the buzzings of the modern conveniences, such as my air conditioner as I write this! I have taken to using lamps that require lamp oil to light the home as well as candles that create wonderful shadows at night. I too, will go out of doors to the quiet places and spend the night, to meet myself face to face as you say.

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  3. Diana, thank you. Can you speak more regarding your views of "not owning land or a house"? We have a small 110 year old home in a small college town ... but I haven't forgotten the dream I have held since a child when living in the woods and wanting to return. Fifteen years ago we moved from a large city to a small college town ... in hopes to find a home in the woods. It continues to be our challenge to this very day.

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  4. Dear Diana,
    I am a little worried that this blog is exhausting you. Please pace yourself. Take time away from it when you need to. We all can be patient. You pour your heart and soul into every post, that must take energy. I hope you still have time for your own life and your marriage.
    I am so very grateful for your postings; they are a joy to read and such balm for my soul. And they are enough for me, whenever you feel like posting. Thank you for letting us walk with you. But please put your own wellbeing ahead of our needs.
    Fondly, Ruth

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    1. I agree with Ruth, Diana. I myself have to take days off. Too much computer time can wear you down.

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  5. Indeed Diana,
    "...Place, a frame of life where the contrasting elements of light and darkness are equally present at once." Until I find/create that Place, I too am stifled, feeling as if I'm "camping out", or as others have mentioned, "in limbo", waiting for my true home.

    Meanwhile, I grow Quaking Aspens on the apt. balcony as a privacy screen and as companions. They bring the wind and other elements to visit me during the spring and summer; and then take a winter vacation. Then I gratefully welcome back their green sprouts and whispering leaves.

    Add that to the small Conversation area I created in a corner of the apt. after first becoming aware of Innermost House and I'm happy to say it's a small piece of my Place in the here and now...

    Thank you for sharing, which continues to validate my own, sometimes convoluted, musings about living a simpler, more intentional life.

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  6. Thank you Diana!
    This post really resonated with me and put into words in a way I couldn't imagine thoughts/feelings that have been floating (or scraping) around the back of my mind. I think we all may be heading closer to a new beginning as the economy resets and the jubilee is forced on us. Your post has helped me feel how the great turning happening now can be a process that has a deeply positive direction. Have you or your husband had much Conversation about how the economy, energy, and the environment are changing?

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    1. I like how you put that, David...about the possibility of the jubilee being forced upon us. I think there a many who would love to go back to the first things and are prepared to do so. Where is the "reset" button already? Haha!

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  7. Thank you Diana. I feel most alive in the woods because it is so teaming with life and the constant rhythm/cycle is comforting. What about the woods nourishes you and your husband?

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  8. Dear Diana, I find, in wanting to comment on this post, that I can't add a thing, really, to what you have said. If I had written it myself it would have been, word for word, the same. For instance I, too, am better at subtracting than adding--and so on down the page: Check, check, check. Ditto, ditto, ditto. And if I admire yourself for your forthrightness, then I might really begin to admire myself for the same qualities I see in you. I declare, it is like suddenly hearing someone sing out loud the words to the very song that I have had stuck in my head! Arresting...I am all agog.

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  9. Diana, I would so like to respond to your post but I find myself silent with the 'not knowing'. Your relationship with life is so deeply profound that it just blows my mind away. I really need to sit with and bring your way of being into my heart before I can begin to even think of commenting, other than to say Wow!!! When you talk about going back to the beginning (yes, now I can see that you precisely meant to use the image of a completed circle rather than the trajectory of a spiral), I can picture the flirelight flickering off the cave walls of early man's shelters, the ripe, unwashed scent of his bodily musk, the smoke curling to the ceiling of the cave, the fecund aroma of the earthy floor, the guttural sounds of his communication and the eerie sounds of wildlife outside the cave settling in for a night of foraging assaulting the senses with a primal connection to the source, the soup from which we arose. It is important to own that part of our evolutionary history. And still, at the same time, you managed to bring the best and highest aspirations of the human soul into your environment as well, tracing the deepest longings of the human heart through the books you surround yourself with and the touches of silver, oiled wood, nature's beauty and the delicate stylings of Japanese art. What I feel in your life is the mysterious that is brought into the firelight for examination and celebration. You and Michael are rare beings, and I sit in baffled awe...

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  10. The more I read what is out there on the internet more i become aware how shallow most of it is. Thank you Diana for writing with depth and meaning. What you say has substance and I am able to read and reread your words and find real wisdom.

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  11. I would like to ask a question. I am feeling that with rise of 'communication' technology a world is being created awash with words, quotes and recycled platitudes but not a lot of meaning. Do you have any advice how i may tune out this surface noise and empty chatter and start thinking with some depth again.

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