Dewey and Al, you raise so many questions of such importance that addressing them properly is beyond my organizational ability. You should see what a mess I can make of a kitchen drawer when I go to organize it!
So I want to beg your pardon and everyone else's patience while I try to make a start on your many excellent points.
Dewey, in your last comment you make me aware of how poorly I would have fared in philosophy class. But here we are, and I'm sure you're right that clearly defined terms would be helpful.
So I am going to at least try and say briefly what I mean when I speak of Innermost House, the Innermost Life, the World, and maybe I can say a little about spiritual paths and practices.
Innermost House is first of all the twelve-foot square house we built ourselves and lived in for seven years. The words came to me spontaneously the first time I stepped inside and had a makeshift door to close behind me. The name has since taken on a life of its own, so that now friends here speak of their own inward-most home, even if yet in prospect, as their own Innermost House.
Over the course of our early years in the house, the name came to suggest to guests our inward way of living there. That gradually became what I call the Innermost Life. In the same way friends here now speak of their own inward-most way of all life as an Innermost Life.
I find myself saying "all" life, and I realize that is significant to me. I think I mean to signify more than just an inward way of thinking or feeling or meditating, but an inward way of reconstituting the whole circle of material and mental culture—of all life, so far as it enters into my domestic sphere of home.
By the World I realize that I mostly mean the modern world that is disconnected from traditional ways of life. So I suppose the World to me exists in degrees of "Worldness"—in degrees of fragmentation and dislocation from what I call Place.
Oh dear, there is another term! I suppose we should not dwell on what I have already failed so often to communicate, but Place to me is a kind of outward mirror image of Innermost House and the Innermost Life. Or I suppose I should say that Innermost House and the Innermost Life are inward reflections of Place.
For Place too is a way of all life, enclosing the same whole circle of material and mental culture, but constituted communally rather than individually. It was the civilization of towns we were seeking, not withdrawal to the woods. That is what I mean when I sometimes speak of Innermost House as the inward city that arose at the end of our search.
The inward city. This brings me to the ideas of spiritual paths and practices. I thought a long time, trying to remember when those ideas first entered our married Conversation, and I feel I can say for certain that it was not until our search had come to an end—just before Innermost House was built.
I am pretty sure that we never spoke or thought of our life's search for Place as what people today call a spiritual path. It was a search for meaning through culture. It touched everything from hunting and farming to food and dress to the arts and sciences of east and west.
Its "everythingness" held practically every particular academic or career path at an inaccessible distance from us. It certainly made us different—we were different everywhere we went, and since we went just about everywhere, that was a lot of differentness!—but it did not make us "spiritual seekers," either in our own eyes or, I think, in anyone else's.
The only "practices" we had were our Conversation and our walks, our eating and dressing, our writing and reading, our rooms and our fire. We took all of them very seriously, but we certainly never thought of them as "spiritual practices." Those were the practices which, over time, changed the shape and character of our whole life.
I think we would have pursued a very different course in a traditional world. But we were born into the world of modern America, and a high and deep experience of Place was what we felt was most missing, so it was Place we went seeking.
We sought not only Place itself but a way of being human that seems to require Place to bring individuals to maturity. So you might say that our path was a search for the wholeness of Place and a whole way of being human. It is that search and not some other that concluded in Innermost House.
This is starting to look like my kitchen drawer project! It is at about this point that my husband normally comes into the room, and we look despairingly at the mess I've made and at each other, and we both start laughing.
So before I quite surrender to the situation, let me try to say what I've said again as simply as I can. Innermost House is the name of my house and of anyone else's room or house created to enclose an inward way of all life. The Innermost Life is my name for that way of living.
The World to me is a state of fragmented places and people, where wholeness is sacrificed for what to me are the incomprehensible successes of modern life.
By Place I mean that wholeness of culture from depth to height that is capable of supporting the growth to maturity of whole human beings.
There, I have at least said some things I have never said before, thanks to your suggestion, Dewey. I hope some of it makes some sense. I'm sure I haven't said it all yet, or got it down quite right.
And I'm afraid I haven't even begun to answer your or Al's questions. If I may, I'll let it rest for the weekend, and return to this next time.