Monday, September 17, 2012
A Place To Be Free
Elizabeth asks, "All my life i have felt like a strange creature never really getting the society I live in with its obsession with work and status. I have moved around a bit and always gravitated towards towns with an alternative community in the hope that I would find a place to be free. What I am learning is that no matter how creative and free thinking the community is the pressures of our society just keep pushing in. The question is I guess how to live with honouring my true nature without the support of the society I live in or even that of a partner? I know this is very broad but we are not islands and to feel loved and accepted is part of human nature. I can play along to a degree and do what I have to do to pay the bills etc but I long to live according to my own calling too."
You ask a very important question Elizabeth, one with which I have struggled all my life. You asked another question last month, about tuning out surface chatter and thinking with depth again. To me these questions are related.
I too have moved a good deal, and perhaps we moved for the same reason. When you find yourself in an uncomfortable position it is natural to want to move. I find that the world today often puts the inner person in an uncomfortable position. We all have different experiences, and I cannot see beyond the horizon of my own life. But perhaps we share one discomfort. I can try to say what has made the difference for me.
When I was young I had no companions who I felt shared my nature. I was always the "naive" one, the one who didn't like to have fun. I simply didn't find the same things enjoyable that others did, and living as I was brought up to do, I had a hard time enjoying life at all. I always felt like a stranger. I do not think that others who easily feel at home in the world can understand how hard it is for some of us just to keep trying to breathe.
All of that changed for me when I met my husband. I know that many of us have no choice but to confront the mystery of our lives alone. Still in some sense we are born for each other, and even Michael and I have need of some society. And we have done some things again and again through the years to satisfy that need.
We have always begun with a room. I know that sounds unimportant and even contrary to the problem of our isolation, but for us it has always been our beginning. A room of our own is a way of accepting our isolation. It is a way of ceasing to struggle against it. It is the beginning of making something of it.
What we made of it is a new relationship to life. A room of your own into which you allow nothing and no one not of your choosing is a kind of fresh start. It is inspiring and invigorating to make the world new. There are certain things I need unavoidably, things like heat and light and cool, like water and food, like silence and words and emptiness and images. I cannot do without these things, but I have the power of choice in what form I let them into my room. And we have chosen, over and over again.
From the beginning we have chosen to make real friends of books. This is something I learned from my husband, to whom the classic authors are almost supernaturally alive. And they have come to life for me. I always loved books, but I used to escape into them. Michael taught me to converse with them instead, to make living friends of them, as much of flesh and blood as any other friend. The best books you can befriend and love may go a long way toward silencing the world's chatter and opening a path to deeper and more satisfying thoughts.
And so even with light and heat and cool. Once a room has walls it has possibilities. I can choose to befriend the light that enters the room. I can choose the warmth, I can choose the cool. If I cannot have it on the terms that to me are genuine and whole and healing, then I can choose to go without. I have at least the power to choose my own darkness. I can choose the cold if I cannot have the fire I have needed for a hundred thousand human generations. Walls make a room, and a room is for choosing.
I suppose I am a little stubborn. Perhaps you have to be today. But walls bear so much of the work of stubbornness that withinside your room you can almost relax. You simply stand at the door and say, Yes or No to every applicant for admission. You have to do more than that of course, for you also have a life outside your room, a life devoted in some part to recruiting applicants. But once you have a room you have a choice; that has been the important thing to me.
The walls of my room permit the power and meaning of my choices to accumulate, over years and from room to room. It separates the very best choices I have made from all the other, perhaps more careless or less wakeful choices. And it keeps those choices, like a society of friends, living and moving together.
I have made real friends of fires and books and bowls and pictures. I look forward to seeing them at the end of the day or with the coming season. They are real participants in a living Conversation that has some of its substance in ageless words, some in material silence.
Michael and I have always tried to have such a room in our life, and it has usually been our living room. Oftentimes it has been our only room. But to us it has been a sanctuary, a respite from the world and its endless and purposeless distractions, a withdrawing place of reason and depth and love and sweetness.
There is something more, a very great something. The friendships we have cultivated in the isolation of our rooms have not led us from but toward a fuller connection with other people, with friends and family and strangers.
Once we have come home to ourselves, we find other people much more willing to come home to us. It is almost as if such a room, once well occupied by the soul that does the real choosing, exerts a kind of magnetic pull on the soul in other people. We do not need to teach them how to behave or what to value, the room teaches them for us. If a guest truly cannot see us in our room, they are not likely to be the friend we are awaiting.
Slowly through the years I have come to accept and even rejoice in a world that seems to me to have lost all its senses. For it is that world and our relationship to it that opened for us a path into the soul. I think just fifty years ago Innermost House would have been impossible, because it was just a little less necessary then.
Now it grows more necessary every day, and as it grows more necessary, so I believe it grows more possible. It is a house for all who would live in the soul.