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 questionHow 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.


  1. "Place to me is a harmony of all the necessary things living together as one whole." Sounds like the perfect definition to me!

    "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."
    Yes, this is such a challenge!
    Something that is a bit of a conundrum in my own life is that the choices I have made for freedom have involved accepting very low income, which is not a trouble to me but occasionally sadly means accepting the fruit and vegetables that have disturbed the balance by their long journey here, rather than those grown nearby.

    Steiner proposed as part of his bio-dynamic horticulture that one could prepare seeds in such a way that they'd grow into plants purpose built to support one's health. You probably know he suggested seeds should be sown to coincide with a waxing moon for best effect, as all water responds to the moon's pull, apparently. So he said as the moon begins to grow one should stand barefoot on the land in which the seeds would grow,and hold them in one's mouth awhile to become soaked with one's saliva before planting. The link established through the soles of the feet and the information in the saliva soaked into the seed would make the plant respond to the special conditions of nutritional need in the person who thus planted the seeds.
    I don't know if it really would work like that, but it sounds plausible to me, and is at the very least a formidable expression of 'Place'.

  2. Indeed it is a "formidable expression of Place", Ember. This is more or less the method used in this area for planting. Above ground crops go in at the waxing of the moon and root crops are planted at the waning. As a side note, remember what else responds to the Moon's pull: Women do. The proper time invariably comes around and I just get a hankering to plant. It's then that you'll find me barefoot in the garden with a mouthful of seeds. Until you said this, I've never quite "gotten" why I had the seeds in my mouth. I just did it without seeing someone else doing it before me. It was as handy a place to put them as any. The main part of my garden is generally no bigger than a king-sized bedspread, but I eat like a little pig out of this area!

    It's instructive to me, now that you mention it, that I have always enjoyed a better general health than my husband has...I thought it was only because he refuses to eat many veggies. Also, however, he doesn't help put the seeds in and can't run barefoot in any case because he has one leg shorter than the other one. He has to wear his special shoes...So, from what you've taught here, it's possible that the vegetables have had an affinity for my physiology because I am the one that planted them. Fascinating! Thank you for sharing this, Ember.

  3. “How can something so ordinary have become so extraordinary? How can such an ordinary human experience be missing? “ and “The search for Place became our spiritual path, and our Conversation along the way became our practice.”

    Diana, here you have stripped all mystery away and for me, offer THE explanation of Innermost House.

    From the very beginning of being aware of Innermost House I sensed the Ordinariest, the Rightness, of it and as I read many of your thoughts I said to myself, “but of course”. I heard, or rather, recognized the truth and completeness of your words about your Place and the journey you and Michael continue to travel. This resonates in my heart and soul.

    I must admit I have been a little confused about how others have found it so extraordinary, and then I remind myself of how I have moved in and out of “normal society” most of my life on a road less traveled. Explanations to those that cared about me, or the curious, were always needed when I made chooses that didn't reflect their norm. At this point of my life, I'm longing to step back out of the 9-5 working-to-live world and re-establish my own Place of Harmony. It's so comforting and encouraging to have found you there - back to searching, yes, but also beckoning, shining a light on the path that reminds me which fork to take.

    I haven't contributed publicly very much to the Conversation of this on-line community that has bonded so well. But believe me, I've been here all along the way, following it with enjoyment and fascination. I cherish the learning and companionship of kindred souls of mine that have found, or are searching for their way Home, to their Place, in an extraordinary, committed search to remain true to their Natures.

  4. Diana, I love the concept of extraordinary ordinariness. This kind of recognition of the sublime in the ordinary is only possible, I feel, when our relationship with the very fabric of our life, however it presents itself, is an intimate and open-hearted response to the elements that make up our daily life. This type of relationship requires a deliberate, conscious slowing down so that our full attention can be given to the task or item at hand, and an appreciation for the uniqueness of each moment, even as the moment expresses itself as the ordinary stuff of daily life. When we can do this consciously and allow ourselves to disappear into the activity at hand so that we do not separate out ourselves as the 'doer' and instead become the 'doing' then a sense of Place naturally arises in which harmony exists as the One Thing. Can this occur if we are living in a space that is not indigenous to the local environment? Here is where you and I may disagree. I live in a suburban brick ranch house, smack dab in the middle of a sea of other ranches. Certainly my subdivision is not composed of the basic elements of the natural surroundings. And yet, I have had prolonged experiences of inner harmony within my home whenever I have surrendered my own boundaries to that of the environment I am in. If I do not label my environment as good or bad, natural or artificial, pretty or ugly, in harmony with nature or discordant to nature's promptings, but merely recognize that the outer search for the connection with Nature that I crave is already present within me, just as I am and just as the world is, then I feel at home with a sense of Place that is as it is, whether it is natural or not. In other words, I don't feel I need to have my world arranged to suit my sensitivities to my environment, I just need to recognize that Place is all around me, contradictions and all. I love feeling connected to the Earth in a concrete way and that would of course be my preference, but I find no purpose in pining for perfection and connection in the phenomenal world when it is the stillpoint of the energetic world that is the true sense of Place for me. This stillpoint exists in every single thing if I am willing to open my heart to it, so while I truly love the life that you and Michael have shared with us and in my ideal world I'd be happy to live just as you have, I know that finding the stillpoint in plastic and concrete and garbage as well as in the conventional beauty of rootedness to the natural environment is also a viable way of finding the sense of Place within my own heart that is immutable regardless of outer circumstances. I find my sense of Place with my own inner Self which mirrors the stillpoint of the world that exists beyond form.

  5. Indeed, how has it happened? "How can something so ordinary have become so extraordinary?" I shared a photo with Ember the other day that, to me, shows just how BIZARRE the "ordinary world so called" is becoming. It illustrates how an "off-grid" life can be accomplished today:

    Now, is this the most insane thing you have ever seen in your life??!! In order now to have a simple off-grid situation, all you have to do is work yourself into an early grave and become a multi-MILLIONAIRE--and construct your own personal GRID complete with solar, wind, and hydo-electric power systems! Build a water catchment system that holds thousands of gallons of water! And so on, and so on...All of this monstrosity for the use of what appears to be the inhabitants a fairly small house. Those who can afford to do so can continue to hog everything for themselves, land and all. I can't imagine what kind effect of even a few thousand of these individual grids would have upon the earth. Ah, the simple, ordinary life! I laughed so hard.

    If Innermost House has attracted you for the Conversation, strike a wooden match, light a candle. If for spiritual development, strike a match. If living off-grid appeals to you, strike a match, collect water in a bucket. If you want to save the environment,strike a match already. If you are a survivalist and seriously want to be the last person left on earth (in which case you'll also require 10 years worth of food and ammunition in order to go to war against your neighbors)--strike a match and stop calling attention to yourself.

    Or don't strike a match for that matter. Go to sleep when it gets dark and rise with the sun. The point is that, to the truly ordinary person, the "technology" already exists to begin an ordinary life. The ordinary person can begin today.

    1. We have gotten so dependant on the by-products that the earth has so graciously given (mostly without graditude)that we now have to have these discussions to aid in our weaning away and even giving back.

      Yes, Julie, Strike a Match!, but what if the whole world wanted to heat with wood! It will not, of course, come to that because, even tho the numbers are slowly growing, I would reckon that most people will die with a wireless "something" that will have to be pried from their hands, figuratively speaking. That is their ordinary.

      It is wonderful that those of us that want to simplify have a place like this to come to, but it is sad that we have to.

      But I am still amazed at the infinate knowledge that humans have when I see (every day!) the new inventions, technology, life-saving techniques, etc. that are discovered. What an intelligent people we are!

      But, I fear that one day, whether we burn trees or oil the result will be the same ----- a depleted earth.

      I am not even feeling down today and do not intend for that to be the message of this post. I guess I am actually realist that is cursed with a dreamy nature!

      Let me see if I can actually pull all of this rambling together! (this is the way I actually think, lol) So, now ordinary is extraodinary? I can see that we need to slow down and delight in every simple thing we do, yes I can. I *think* the extraordinary part is being able to do it.

    2. I agree, Sherry, that it's unlikely that the whole world will want to burn wood (or peat, or dung, for that matter) though I do think it could be sensibly done. For instance, my husband and I only take fallen wood and branches for our fires and there is never any dearth of these. I suppose the average modern person would be inclined to cut down a whole forest just for themselves.

      I'm really referring here to those who say they want to espouse a simple life already, for whatever reason, but who go about it in such a complicated and high-tech way that they are liable never to achieve their dream.


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