Friday, October 12, 2012
An Extraordinary Ordinariness
Merriam-Webster: Extraordinary -
1a : going beyond what is usual, regular, or customary
Synonyms: aberrant, aberrated, abnormal, anomalous, atypical, especial, exceeding, extraordinaire, exceptional, freak, odd, peculiar, penomenal, preternatural, rare, singular, uncommon, uncustomary, unique, unusual, unwonted
Ember, my heart has leapt with yours a thousand times at the prospect of Place, and despaired with yours at the Placelessness around us. You ask the question we only came to asking at the end of our search—"How can one bring all these elements into harmony alone?"
Place to me is a harmony of all the necessary things living together as one whole. Dark and light, night and day, spring and summer and fall and winter, earth and sky, land and sea, insect and tree and flower, fish and fowl and beast, woman and man. All my instincts tell me that this harmony is ordinary.
And my sense of Place requires a culture of inhabiting that harmony—in the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, the house and town in which we live, in the way we heat and light our way, in the books we read and the pictures we admire, in our words and thoughts and feelings. My instincts tell me that to live this way is ordinary.
The condition of ordinary life I remember before remembering was not something in which I believed, it was an actual experience. That experience guided Michael and me through the world in our search for Place. We did not have to believe in Innermost House. We had experienced it before. It was only the form that took us by surprise. In Innermost House we both immediately recognized the beginning we remembered.
What I remembered and what we found in the end was something so ordinary to the soul that it took me a very long time to acknowledge how extra-ordinary it is today. How aberrant, how anomalous, how rare. In some ways that was our greatest frustration and greatest difficulty. How can something so ordinary have become so extraordinary? How can such an ordinary human experience be missing?
Place is natural. It is what happens of necessity in all traditional communities, vernacular or classical. I would never have believed it could be so difficult to live naturally today if I had not tried myself and experienced it myself.
There is nothing very extraordinary about eating the fruits your neighbors grow. What is extraordinary is eating fresh fruit from the other side of the earth. But it is actually cheap and easy to eat exotic fruits from the grocery store today and often expensive and difficult to eat food from the place you live.
So also there is nothing extraordinary about building a house that makes sense in every part and as a whole in Place. It is natural to make a house of local materials formed into sizes and shapes that make local sense. Only the very rich in the highest traditional times had the opportunity to build in an extraordinary way, and their ambition was mostly satisfied simply by reaching back to the classical forms of their own civilization.
But it is often very expensive and difficult today to build a house built that makes local sense. For the most part only the very rich have the opportunity to build naturally. So what is ordinary and what is extraordinary?
Strange as it sounds and unbelievable as it remained for a long time to me, in our experience, Place has no place in the ordinary world today. It is out of context. Place is extra-ordinary.
But what then? Is there a way of making a harmony of Place alone in a Placeless world?
Dewey, you ask a question that to me suggests the answer we found—"How important is Space/Place and how important is a spiritual state of mind?" Your question and Ember's lie intertwined with my experience at the roots of Innermost House.
At presentations people often ask about our "spiritual practices." I always answer we have none. Michael and I did not perceive ourselves to be on a "spiritual path." We were simply struggling for the breath of life.
But now I realize we did have a spiritual practice, that our life was a spiritual path I did not know to recognize. We searched for the living quality of Place in every single circumstance we met. For us, life in Place and the spiritual state of mind proved to be the same thing. Our search for the missing truth of Place drew us out of ourselves and rooted us in something older and deeper.
The search for Place became our spiritual path, and our Conversation along the way became our practice. Together they changed our minds continually in one direction, until at last Innermost House grew up around us like a shell around a living seed. It was the seed of an extraordinary ordinariness.
I know from experience that it is possible to draw all the elements of Place into one harmony alone. But that harmony came for us of seeking the truth of Place in the substance of a community. We did not think of ourselves or our style or even at last of our happiness. We thought of Place itself.
So Ember I would answer your question—How can one bring all these elements into harmony alone?—by saying that in my experience the only way to do it is to make Place your spiritual path and practice.
Dawn and dusk, day and night, summer and winter. Waking and sleeping, bathing and eating, speaking and listening. The light of fire and the fall of rain. The remembering and the dreaming. The thinking and the feeling. These are the things of Place. They are the things with which we sought a way to live in harmony.
We sought for ordinary Place in an extraordinary world until it became Innermost House. It was an extraordinary ordinariness.