Julie you asked a question that I have often been asked at presentations—What is a typical day like at Innermost House? It ought to be a simple question to answer, but it is strangely difficult. I have tried to answer it a number of times in writing, and trying has taught something about the answer, and something about the difficulty.
Any ordinary day anywhere proceeds from beginning to middle to end. That is the difficulty. At Innermost House time is different. I do not mean that afternoon does not follow morning, and evening succeed afternoon. Of course they do. But there is another way in which all are present at once in every moment.
We have spoken of what I call Timeless Time. I don't know exactly when that phrase first arose in my mind. I cannot even remember a time I didn't think of it that way. It is like the name Innermost House. It came of recognizing something I had always known, but had half forgotten. Timeless Time to me means two things equally; it means Timelessness, where there is no sense of passing time at all. And it means Time, not this or that time, but All Time. These two things are one in Timeless Time.
This is the time of Innermost House. I am unaware of time passing, of things done or things to do. And I am aware of an allness of time, of everything at once in the present. Michael says I didn't use the words Timeless Time before Innermost House, though I associate it as much with our Conversation as I do with the house.
Timeless Time is as far as can be from any routine or schedule, though our days are punctuated by patterns. It's like a child's day, where time is marked outwardly by events, but remains open and unmarked inwardly. The child doesn't think of it as routine or schedule or ritual or any other defining agenda. To her it is simply good time, whole time, at-peace time. It is before-the-world-begins time.
I have sometimes wondered if the institution of the Sabbath is a kind of remembering, or a trying to remember, that time before the world began. It is a holy day, a holiday from the condition of outward events in time.
So to speak of an ordinary day at Innermost House places me in a position outside the house itself, looking on at events in an external way. But I have often thought in these late months that I am between houses now for this very reason. I want to try to speak now.
It is strange to begin by speaking of electricity, but for us the way into Timeless Time was paralleled by our way out of electricity. I think it is hard to overestimate the subtle effects of electronic culture on our lives. I at least find that when I am in the world I take electricity for granted. It is uncomfortable to do without it, and it is hard to see around it. It touches everything, beginning with the fundamentalmost things—darkness and light, night and day, heat and cold. To me living without it in one room at least was the beginning of regaining a timeless relationship to time among the common things of the world.
Living without electricity is something we made our way to very slowly, almost imperceptibly. Our many searching moves made little changes much easier. We were so often thrust into the opportunity to change. Innermost House is the first home we ever occupied entirely without electricity, and it concluded our long approach toward Timeless Time.
At Innermost House we wake just before first woodland light to the sound of the birds. There is a great silence in that sound, a stillness that will remain with me through the whole day until it gives way to the stillness of the evening.
My first thoughts are most often of the Conversation we shared the night before, perhaps by the fire, or perhaps that stirred me from sleep in the middle of the night. It is all present to me in an instant, but I do not remember the words. I only feel the peace of it, the healing. At the beginning of the day my first thought is of the end of all things in the Conversation.
In the summer our mornings are cool and in the winter they are cold, so we most often have our first meal in the warmth of our loft. First we wash a little and take our seats by the hearth.
There Michael serves us a shared piece of roll and some of the red wine from the previous evening. It is a kind of solemn celebration of waking together into Timeless Time, a reminder that, through all the difficulties of our life, we have always been grateful and happy in our married Conversation.
My husband speaks briefly very much in the way he concludes our Conversations with guests—always spontaneously, always movingly. Between ourselves first thing in the morning we are not asking questions, but beginning with answers.
We have breakfast in bed upstairs in the loft. That may be a key to passing into Timeless Time! From out the window there we can watch the waking life of the woods, where Sabbath time is renewed each morning.
After breakfast the day begins, but it is a long beginning. We are half the day at it. In a real way nothing is ever much doing and nothing much ever gets done in Innermost House. Somehow the floor gets dusted, a little outdoor work like gathering branches or cutting wood, or checking for mice nests or sweeping the porch gets done. The fireplace ash gets cleaned and a new fire laid.
We write, or take a walk, or sit and talk. At any time of the day or evening—or in the middle of the night—some thought may occasion a Conversation, and then everything else is set aside until we have explored it through. Conversation has always been the first priority of our life together, and it is always beginning and always ending.
Through our years on the farm we had very little need of income, and that was supplied by clients my husband preserved from his days in the design world. If he has calls to make they get made out of my hearing.
We have an uncooked meal at midday. It seems the day is no more begun then it begins to end. But it is a long ending. The evening reveals itself only very slowly. It is patient, and I am patient for it.
I prepare dinner and set it to cooking over the coals. Cooking for us is so simple that it even took me awhile to believe it. One pot, no recipes, two bowls, wine and water. We always have our dinner by the fire. Perhaps that is another key to Timeless Time.
In the evening after dinner Michael will take us through our nightly ritual of preparing and serving tea. This is a quiet time, accompanied by the calls of night birds, a reflection of the morning. He boils the water in our iron kettle over the coals, then pours it over powered green tea into earthen bowls. Just to see the white steam rushing out of the black bowls in the candle light is the most vivid experience. And the silent graceful movements—there is no time and all time in it.
Then we sit together between our wall of books and the fire and we talk. Sometimes we read aloud to each other. Through most of our evening we are burning four or five candles at once, and we gather them around whichever of us is reading. As the evening draws toward midnight the candles are put to rest one by one, gradually. The room grows slowly darker, the night deeper.
These hours between tea and bed are our hours of deepest Conversation. We may talk until any hour of the night. We may talk until dawn. We have wakened each other a thousand times to keep vigil over our beloved Conversation.
I cannot inwardly count the days of our lives or the passing of the years. One day succeeds the next, each one different and all the same. In a way it is all the beginning, all the end.