Friday, October 19, 2012

Seeing is Believing

Welcome Marianne, I am delighted to hear from you.  My husband and I have spent some happy time in Bavaria.  I hope you come to love your simple life there.

My life in Innermost House was almost unbelievably simple.  It seems many people simply cannot believe it.  Even those who knew us during our seven years in the woods sometimes expressed something approaching disbelief about it.  

When my friend Kent Griswold of the Tiny House Blog visited us during our last weeks in the house, he admitted that he had a little trouble believing it before he saw it with his own eyes.  He entitled his article about his visit, "Seeing is Believing."  

After we left, the nice people from whom we rented our little writing room down in town finally confessed that they considered our life at Innermost House a fabulous fiction.  They would not be persuaded that it was real.  

I have sometimes wondered exactly what it is about Innermost House that is so unbelievable.  It cannot be that the house is small, since a whole movement of small houses has arisen since we built it.  It cannot be that we live without electricity, because after all, tens of millions of people in the world—and millions here on this continent—do without it.  

It cannot be that it is the woods; thousands of people still live in the woods even in our own county.  It cannot be that we live by fire, for that too is still common enough in rural areas.

I think it cannot be that our house is neat and clean, because thousands of pages in hundreds of magazines are published each month showing rooms just as cleanly.  And most of our own houses—or at least our parents' houses!—are just as tidy.  

It cannot be that we live with books, for everyone has seen pictures of home libraries with many more books than we have.  It cannot be our cultivated rusticity in a world with whole magazines devoted to log cabin life.  It cannot be the food we eat, judging from the crowds at the farmers market!

It cannot be that our life is too simple, when there is always someone to object that it should be simpler.  It cannot be that it is too spiritual in a world where monasticism still has currency.  It cannot be that it is too self-reliant when I don't grow so much as a green bean. 

I cannot think of a single element or aspect of Innermost House that is in itself more than just a little unusual.  It is not an invention.  It is not any kind of wonder of modern society.  It is not unnatural and it is not supernatural.  From the moment we moved in I have felt that it is the most natural thing in the world.

When I look back, I remember my own complete inability to foresee Innermost House before we built it.  Not even my husband could foresee the result of the structure forming in his hands.  It was the seeing that finally made the believing.

I remember when we returned from Europe, where our years of searching had finally accelerated toward a steep center until we seemed to fall down a hole to the heart of the earth.  We were in Iowa.  It was the dead of winter.  

Michael stood at a high window in a hospital overlooking the frozen town of his birth.  He paced the floor back and forth and said there must be some veil—something—that still stood between us and the answer, concealing it from us in plain sight.  He could sense it, but he could not see it.  

What is it that conceals from us the humble object of our hearts' desiring?  Why should something so simple be so mysterious?  This weekend I would like to invite your reflections and questions about any aspect of the mystery of Innermost House, the life we lived in it and the path that led to it.  

What is so difficult to believe about life in Innermost House?  


  1. Well, if this doesn't strike too mundane a note, I should say that most people in similar circumstances would get a) bored and b) sick of each other's company. Being left alone with reality for more than half an hour at a time has the overwhelming majority of people reaching for some kind of diversion. What is so difficult to believe (for those who do find it difficult) is that it was your regular everyday life, not a weekend away.

    1. I must confess, Ember, that sharing a 12x12 space with my husband 24/7 would be VERY stressful for me. I could live in that size space all by myself, but would probably come to loathe the idiosyncrasies (sp?!) and personal habits of ANYONE who lived with me in too close quarters. I'd be okay with just reading, writing and walking in the woods all day but I know I'd go through a certain period of withdrawal from the ambient background noise of everyday living until I retrained myself to listen to the fullness of my own uninterrupted inner silence again.

  2. These are some of the things that some people may feel to be difficult to believe about life in Innermost House:
    1. living a life that has an absence of grasping or desire for outer things
    2. experiencing self-born contentment that appears to be constant, without fluctuation
    3. feeling an harmonious and integrated connection with all aspects of life in a seamless way, so that you are consciously aware that movement and stillness coexist within each other, even in the simplest acts
    4. staying anchored in the present moment without reference to the past or future
    5. having a one-pointed vision and intention for your life that cannot be swayed or compromised
    5. stubbornly refusing to settle for the fractured life of contemporary society that the rest of modern world has been taught is 'normal'
    6. being able to easefully remain centered and at peace with the notion of being no one in particular and wanting nothing more than what the present moment holds
    7. having a relationship with another person that is unguarded because it is unconditionally accepting of the other as one's own self
    8. coming home to yourself in a way that most people will never know

    The things that people find difficult will vary from person to person, depending upon how self-aware and self-integrated they are, but you can be sure that IH is the perfect foil for the ego's defense mechanisms in both blatant and subtle ways, and most people don't want to look at the defense mechanisms that help keep them feeling safe and in control.

  3. The moment I saw Innermost House photos after you doing a interview on rowdykittens I could feel your life together, for me there was no fiction but a knowing for my life to proceed in the direction of Innermost House,and it has. It was a magical moment.
    Thankyou for opening your world a little for those of us on the journey to an Innermost House.

  4. To start with the mundane, it is hard to afford.

    I have a doctorate and I am struggling to structure my livelihood (work remotely) in a way so as to simply afford a way of life in a similar style. Everything about modern American life is built to tie us to the plow--from student loans (that cannot be bankrupted out of) to the 30 year mortgage. All of the "American Dream" is built so that you go sit in an office and do not check out for a life of simplicity and contemplation.

    Once one takes on student loans and a mortgage--which one has brainwashed into them is "good debt" from birth--accomplishing the dream of the equivalent of Innermost House is daunting.

    I'm trying relentlessly now.

    But the refined IH you present to the world with your best pictures, polished posts, and never a negative word does rise nearly to the fictional level.

    I think Michael's talents around the fire that brought very interesting people (and ever needed cashola) to IH made your time there much more idyllic. Without that outside wonderful stimulation, my two cents says the living at IH would have been more grating.

    1. Best wishes to you D.B. Once we have started down the well-trodden road that was presented to us, it really is difficult to switch to the less traveled one. I salute you.

    2. I tried to hold back on this post but . . . I can't, sorry if I am the grumpy man around here.

      And there are other mundane concerns to living IH style.

      Children, schools and friends for the children?

      Health insurance and proximity to hospitals?

      Aging parents that need love, affection and physical care unless you will allow them to wither away at the hands of others.

      And a spouse that will go for it/tolerate it/eventually cherish it is a tall order.

      I tried to be patient in my first comment about your question,"
      What is so difficult to believe about life in Innermost House?"

      If you can't answer that yourself, Diana, your grasp of what modern America is for most regular Americans (without a trust fund) has evaporated.

      It almost felt mocking. Granted, I may tender because I am in the middle of reaching for the ideal of it. But another point--IH has slipped away from you as well.

      I took a class in law school where they gathered up graduate engineering students, law students, and MBA students and put us into interdisciplinary groups to take new technologies to market that the scientists in the uni's labs had developed.

      Anyway, the first thing the Prof did was give us this 50 question survey asking what a normal American would think about the substance of each question. We all answered and they showed us our results against how a random set (test group pulled from the streets not from campus had answered) needless to say--us brilliant grad students were oblivious as to how the regular common American replied.

      And that was just because we had a little more schooling than most. You have been off the grid and become a walking talking iconoclast. And that word barely fits because even when you have tread old, long-established spiritual paths as you continue to do, you claim to not know until retrospect and then you begin to rename them with your own vernacular.

      I have no problem with any of this. It just strikes me odd because I would assume Michael would be well-versed and know what territories you two are treading. But none of this matters to me--I am simply answering your question. I would not be engaged or writing this if it did. I very much cherish you, IH, and the conversationalists.

      But, come on, surely you feel that you live life on the margin of what most consider normal--compared to the way of the average American that can't go thirty seconds without a smart phone fix or a latte? That dreams of the BMW and the Cowboys taking the Superbowl and that haven't read anything besides Twilight or whatever the 50 Ways erotic book is in years?

    3. Applause, sir! You are the first of us to be facing the silence on your own. I consider you a teacher. I know that you cherish us, and again, I salute you. And I am right behind you in this journey. Please continue to tell us how you really FEEL about it all. You are instrumental to me in my own journey.

    4. D.B., perhaps it might be fruitful to consider other ways in which Innermost House could manifest for us all right where we are amidst other people, family responsibilities, financial debt, and the influence of the 'American Way'. If one thinks of IH in terms of refining one's own current inner and outer space, both in terms of living arrangements and in terms of perspective, we may discover that we are closer to being able to embody the IH ideal than we think. I feel that the goal of IH is not to hide away from the world in order to protect ourself from undue influences, but rather to bring the light of our vision for ourself into whatever circumstances we may find ourself in. Simplicity, for example, has a strong component of nonattachment to our possessions and this is something we can cultivate even if we are surrounded by more than we need at the moment, especially if others in our life would object to a household purging. Nonattachment is an inner process that no one even needs to be aware that we're practicing. Reducing our debt is a wonderful opportunity to practice discrimination between wants and needs and to learn self-discipline. That doesn't need to be done somewhere in the woods, but can be accomplished right in our own living rooms when we become aware of the urge to buy something advertised on TV as it arises or when the inclination to shop as entertainment becomes an itch we want to scratch and we merely sit back instead and watch ourselves squirm with the discomfort of not acting on our impulses. We don't need first edition books to learn more from the great thinkers of our time, we merely need a library card, and the committed desire to make this type of personal exploration a priority. We don't need only one pot to cook in to embody IH, we simply need to moderate our appetite and choose healthy foods that fuel our spirit as much as they fuel our body. There are so many avenues we can take right where we are to begin the process of living with conscious awareness and focused intention. We just need to be willing to think outside the IH box a little.

    5. I, too, applaud Dewy's frankness. The title of Diana's post is "Seeing is Believing." I think the problem many people have with believing in Innermost House is what we don't see but suspect must be there.

      I think I first learned of Innermost House from the YouTube video. Many of the comments there show disbelief. Some show belligerence. To be honest, my own comment many months ago - before I knew any of you here - was that I thought of IH as a form of performance art. Art may have many lessons to teach us, but for most, art is not life.

      What don't we see that keeps many of us from believing? For starters, a visible means of support. We hear so much about Michael but hear nothing directly from him and never see him. We know nothing of his struggles in the world or how much time he must spend away from IH to support it. At IH, there was no garden to tend, no animals to care for, no laundry to do, no property tax. All these things that common people must struggle for seem to magically melt away at IH. Add to that - as Dewy said - concerns for family members and health insurance, and it is understandable that the average person would be sceptical.

      I can believe in many things that are most inspirational about IH: The solitude, the simplicity, the beauty, the contemplation, the conversation. I can fully understand the wisdom of not having TVs, computers, electric light, and even (maybe) heat and hot water.

      I don't see IH as a model for living that most of as can ever hope to reach. Reality keeps a ledger, and for most of us, payments are due. As Dewey reminds us (He's a brave man, indeed.) even the original Innermost House - with all of its advantages - was not sustainable. I think there is much that Diana and Innermost House can teach us, and we can be inspired as we strive to refine our lives (Thanks, Pam!), but we must still deal with the real world around us.

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  6. Editing issues above!

    D.B., I'd say that the best word you used in your post to describe IH is 'refined'. Diana and Michael certainly live a refined (and may I even call it 'rarified') life of implicit elegance that is not the product of their personal space, but rather is the orignator of their personal space. This elegant refinement is rare in today's world of fast food, ever-changing styles to promote consumerism, a 'me first' attitude, and an external, future-oriented focus on the 'next thing'. Cultivating this type of inner elegance requires the ability to stand deeply rooted in the ideals of gentility and grace and to not be swayed by the surface glitz promoted by the media as the new 'ideal'. As a society we have somewhat lost our own personal skills needed to pass on the rudiments of refinement to our young, and as a result, we have become lost along the way. Refinement is more than merely externally acting in a certain way (that is, following the acculturated 'societal rules' of refinement) but is, rather, a way of 'being' that arises from the core of a person's inner essence. It requires self-awareness, groundedness, inner stillness, personal acceptance of oneself as a vehicle for expressing the wholeness of the natural (vs. self-willed man-made) world, a slowing down to better notice and observe, a willingness to be a reflection of the best that the world has to offer without pride or self-importance, and a deep desire to live an authentic life free of guile or self-protection. Tall order for most, and certainly one of the things that people sense in Diana and Michael's world that is remarkably different from their own way of moving through life. I think that THIS is what people scratch their head over rather than the mechanics of the simplicity of daily life at IH. It's not the 'doing' of IH that is so daunting, but rather the 'being' of IH that seems so perplexing. How to get from 'here' to 'there' in the process of living authentically as a person is a life-long task that should rightfully begin from birth as a daily intention, but for which there is no easy how-to manual to follow. An intention, to me, is a moment by moment decision and awareness of how to use one's life in a particular way in order to express a certain way of being. This is how Diana and Michael appear to be living their life together. A goal, on the other hand, is a future-oriented point in time in which one will accomplish a particular task, and seems to be the way society is teaching its youth to 'achieve' and 'become' someone who can make a difference in the world. It's almost as though authenticity has become the stuff of folklore--tales of former glory told around a campfire! We have forgotten that there is a difference between setting goals versus allowing our life to arise as the product of moment-by-monent intentionality.

  7. I think the element choice has a role in this. I have seen simple life in India, without electricity because it wasn't provided, no books because they couldn't read, no possessions because they were too poor and simple food because that's was the cheapest to buy on the market. If they could, they would make other choices. I think that's why people find it so hard to believe that you chose this simple life, for them that would mean being poor. In western Europe it is difficult to live a simple life, we are slaves of a system which provides us with everything what we need and what we don't need. That's why we say that it is a luxury to live "off the grid", live simple and make choices not to have and not to want. I am trying to live this way, but I find opponents and difficulties, and therefore I have to compromise. Obviously there's not always a choice.

    1. Bri, you make a good point. To CHOOSE to live simply, to live face to face with our own emotional and psychological demons without anything external to deflect our attention away from them, to refuse to fortify our ego and sense of self with the 'stuff' of the world--these are choices that scare the bejeebers out of most people, if only on a subconscious level.

    2. "Choosing to live simply" Bri & Pam, this is so true. Before I moved out of the country, I was so used to the "stuff", we are taught it is the American way to have "stuff". And I think DB mentioned the debt! Oh my, I didn't know there was another way to live until I was face to face with it.
      When I saw the IH video and the choices Diana & Michael made to live by, it all began to make a little more sense to me. Although I realize there are many limitations in many places to this type of lifestyle, if we desire simplicity (or whatever it is we want in our lives)enough we can do many things to make this change, using what Diana & Michael have learned,lived and share with us more as a guide to make into our own version, one that is right for us.

    3. Bri, I reread your comment about choice and you mentioned the need for compromise. That, too, is a choice. What I have observed of Diana and Michael's journey is that their 'choice' is NOT to compromise, no matter what the cost is to their relationships with their extended family, their chosen professions, or most simply, the easy way out. They are rare in that for most of us our 'choices' are limited by our fears, while for them their choices have always been driven by their quest DESPITE their fears (which, in their case from what Diana has written, may have been expressed in their frustration and/or despair of ever finding what they were looking for.) It takes great inner stability to live from such a place of uncompromising focus regardless of the emotional cost. I doff my hat to those intrepid souls who show us that fulfilling their vision for their lives IS possible even when traditional society and the deceptive trickery of the ego would suggest otherwise.

  8. D.B., You have so many valid points. To achieve anything near to the physical IH structure would be expensive in most parts of the area. 50K is a LOT to me. As we all know, debt = imprisonment. That is were being poor has it's advantages. I have no debt, but I don't have a college or higher education, I only owe $30 on a mtg with a low payment and have enough equity to make a bit if I were to sell. But, I can build a small 300 sq. ft. home around here for about 21K. That is doable. I can build on my children's property, I can have access to water and electricity (I do not want to go off-grid). I never was "tied to a plow" because it has never been an option for me. I am not saying that earning doctorate is not an amazing feat! Oh, yes it is. I totally admire you and all those who have had the grit to tough it out. I just knew early on that I didn't. D.B. do you have enough equity in your home to sell, pay off loans and start over? I don't think it would be scary, but exhilirating!!!!!

    Bri, to not have a choice is also a type of prison, is it not? Our country has really painted a euphoric, but false ideal. Our county is poor, but we have our pockets of small McMansionvilles. This sounds sarcastic, but they look just like the hotels in Monopoly, all just alike. Little activity except early in the day going to work and late in the afternoon coming home. Most of the time you don't see a soul outside. What kind of life is that? (BTW, I am usually in line with them, too, but I keep going out to Ruralville.)

    Pam, you have had the advantage of having a spiritual community and guide to help you to transcend many of these problems. Most of us have not. No where near. Your imput is very inspiring! I think that most of us are just grappling with everyday existence where our ego does get in the way and where trancendence could really smooth things out. Me? I just want to remove myself from most of the stressors and concentrate on the good things of God that man has tried to block out!

    Maybe none on this makes a lot of sense since, as I am basically typeing without thinking. And I have had a lot of emotional upheaval in the last few months that I am still bleeding over. But, I do know (and have for quite awhile) that I want my own place in the "near woods". I think the physical pioneer gene escaped me somehow.

    If you would like to read the full version just email me and I will send an ebook download..........totally kidding!

    The question that I have is boredom. That and I probably would not want people intruding into my home very much.

  9. Excellent points everyone!

    My initial thought about why IH is so exceptional is because of the efficiency AND beauty in design along with the brilliant combination of privacy in the woods CLOSE to the required services and food so that the home life could be simplified down to minimal household tasks and maximum 'me' and 'us' time. Along with these winning design and location factors is another winning combination: a spiritually grounded, like-minded couple that we all admire and whose relationship many of us would like to develop in our own lives. This last point alone makes the IH a rarity and possibly even unattainable in some of our minds. Until reading about Diana and Michael, I would never have thought it possible for a couple to live so harmoniously. There doesn't seem to be any self-sacrificing or annoyances which in such a small space is almost unbelievable. I do believe they are like one person; there could have been no other way for this lifestyle to have worked.

    My final thought is that for most people, we are used to distracting ourselves from the uneasiness and unhappiness in our lives by employing 'busyness', electronics and outside stimulation. Children and even steady family gatherings can be the distractions we allow to keep us from finding our stillpoint. Diana and Michael have managed to transcend family tradition and regular community life, taking from these things only what serves them. I have read (and I am paraphrasing) that our best contribution to society is to be true to ourselves and teach by example. Diana and Michael are sharing their authentic lives with us and their beautiful, refined home which is neither extravagant nor simple. Although their home and life have been showcased on simple living websites and movies, I would argue that IH is so much more complex than anyone would have imagined.

  10. Dear, Dear Diana. There is not one thing about Innermost House that is unbelievable to me. In fact your Innermost House has made a believer out of me! You've gotten me busy working through all of my details and arguments, and once I've started, I see that any impediments I thought I had can be dispatched simply enough, and time is on my side. So thank you, friend. Believe it or not, I'm on my way!

    1. Diana, I have to agree with Julie that "there is not one thing about Innermost House that is unbelievable to me".

      I am very much inspired!

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  12. Perhaps we might discuss what kind of IH life we imagine for ourselves. Here are some questions for contemplation that might be a good way to begin:
    *If I could live my ideal life, what shape would it take? How is my current life different from this ideal?
    *How would I move through my ideal day?
    *Who would I ideally want by my side?
    *How would Iconnect with others in community?
    *Where would I live and what would be my primary aspiration for myself?
    *What steps would I need to take to make that possibilty a reality for myself?
    *What am I willing to lose or give up in my current life in order to make that dream come true? What am I unwilling to change? ( This will be a clue to what I TRULY want even though I may be saying something else.)
    *Where do my obstacles exist in my current life, not just in concrete terms but in psychological and emotional terms as well?
    *What are my personality tendencies that keep me locked in a less than satisfying life? What's my biggest personality roadblock to achieving my dreams for myself? What can I trace this tendency in myself to in my past? What do I need to do to counterbalance this tendency? (In other words, how can I 'go against my type' to remediate this tendency that's holding me back?)
    *What small steps can I take every single day in the different areas of my life that will move me closer to the best life I can imagine for yourself? Why aren't I doing them already? WHATEVER AM I WAITING FOR?!!

    1. Pam, I hope that this post is brought back around. I am glad that you made this comment. There are more people participating on the blog now and there are that many more ideas as to what simplicity really is.

      There cannot be such a thing as "cookie cutter" simplicity! We are all individuals with so many good ideas. I don't think that anyone should feel out of order (unless of course they are!) because they express their thoughts. Playing nice is ok and preferable, but strong opinions sometimes are hard to express in cyber language without being misunderstood.

      Michael and Diana's lifestyle certainly is idealic for them. Personally, I don't want to wear woolen skirts and feel simple in a pair of bluejeans. I, personally, don't have the want to to decipher old writings because I am so much of the time clueless. But I like modern inspirational literature. I like lots of color and I like soothing music surrounding me. I don't want to do my laundry in the creek, but to some it is a peaceful, Zen experience. I am pretty plain spoken and tho I am working on being kinder, I don't plan to change my personality. And I like air conditioning!!! But I can still lead a simple life in spite of all of this. Actually it makes life more simple for me because I want to spend time creating all kinds of things. Rustic simplicity just doesn't work for me.

      I think that this is a perfect questionaire. I mean get down and get do we really feel? What do we really want?
      Do we really want what we think we do or is it just something that we like to think or dream about. Whatever, it just doesn't matter. Keep the questions coming, I say, and maybe the answers will come forth.

    2. Sherry, I agree with your assessment that simplicity has a different face for each of us in some measure depending upon our current stage of life and our personal history. To be honest, I think that for many, many people the longing for a simple life is more the result of feeling overwhelmed by the pressure of trying to cope with the fast pace of our world and the creed of "More is more (better) and less is less (worse)" that makes them feel like they are losing themselves, drowning in the sea of too much to deal with at any one time. I so sympathize with people who are living in the middle years of life with unremitting many family responsibilities that prevent them from finding any down time to nurture themselves. Those years were very difficult for me and it is only now in my 'forest dweller' years that I can breathe a sigh of relief that my days can unfold more calmly, cheaply (!), and in a balanced fashion depending on deliberate choices I make rather than being swept up in the tide of everyone else's needs. I laughed and said 'AMEN!' to your comment that you don't want to give up air-conditioning, and I agree with many other points of preference in the way you'd want your life of simplicity to shape itself.

      As for myself, I'm more interested in developing inner simplicity--keeping a simple mind and an open heart that is unguarded--than in living a life in the woods, though I have found Diana's lifestyle so interesting and romantic-sounding. I'm a naturally neat person and don't hoarde a lot of stuff, so my focus in creating a life of simplicity for myself is more of a psychological and spiritual quest than a matter of where I live and how it looks on the outside. I, too, love air conditioning (LOL!), lots of light in my environment, bright cheerful colors, a sense of space around me, a strong, loving connection with family, friends and community, and most importantly, the time to enjoy it all. Time--it all comes down to that for many people, doesn't it? Time to breathe, time to move through the day in such a way that life is not missed in the hustle and bustle of getting things done quickly and efficiently, time to dream, time to read and ponder, time to create, time to volunteer, time to love and laugh and give and feel gratitude, time to just 'be' without feeling beleaguered by so many tasks that need to be accomplished before I can just sit still and be alone for a moment. I crave a life of simplicity in which time is my ally instead of my foe, in which time is unfettered and unclaimed and waiting for me to welcome it. I crave a life of simplicity in which time is my most precious gift instead of my most rigid taskmaster. I, like Diana, am looking for the life of simplicity that she experiences in 'timeless time.'


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