Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Starting Over

This past week I have heard from a new friend, Linda, who concluded with a question my husband and I asked ourselves over and over again in our years before Innermost House

As someone who has to start over, can I ask ... but how do you choose a place to start over?  How do you find places in Europe, or otherwise?  I hope that you don't mind me writing to you and asking.  It's just that hearing about how other people do it ... well it helps.

This brings me back to a subject to which I am forever returningjust as we ourselves returned to it through all those yearsthe mystery of Place.  

I suppose there is nothing that was so important in making our way to Innermost House as our search for the meaning of Place, and nothing remains so difficult to explain.  I know we have spoken of it before, but I feel I have never really given the sense of it a satisfying expression.  

How do you choose a place to start over?  In a way I feel like I started over every day for twenty years.  For me Place is not so much an opportunity as a necessity.  Or perhaps I should say it is an opportunity to allow Necessity to show me the way.

Our search for Place was in many ways a search for the human satisfactions that come only of living in harmony with Necessity.  The problem we felt from the beginning was that modern life suspends us at so great a height above the guidance of Necessity that we cannot feel her body or hear her voice.  Our life was distant from the food we ate and the drink we drank, from the clothes we wore and the houses and towns in which we lived.  We were distant from our books and pictures and furnishings.  We were as distant from our work as we were from our studies and entertainments.

I do not mean to say we lived in luxury or ease.  We did not.  We only lived as heirs to the benefits of history.  That made life strangely unsatisfying in a way that had nothing to do with the struggle to survive financially as young people. We longed to satisfy our hunger for the beautiful truth of Necessity.

The succession of places in which we lived had this in common, that each put us a little more nearly in touch with the ground.  First the ground of gardens and farmsthe ground that grew our foods.  But also the ground that fed the sheep whose fleece made a classical suit of clothes; the ground that grew the trees that bore the galls for inks that wrote Bibles, and yielded the posts and beams of fine houses; the ground that made the umbers and ochres of beautiful paintings.

We sought a full, high human life, but one rooted in the earth of Place.  That is how we chose our homes.  Where the wind and rain and snow shaped the pitch of a roofbut where the roof itself sheltered a living civilizationthere for awhile we were home.   

Sherry lately asked a question that to me suggests a solution to the problem of starting over.  She said,

I have learned that IH has to be an extension of our IS (innermost souls). This we have access to at all times. We cannot always control our living situations, so we must do our best to make them work for us in whatever way that may be. In fact it won't work at all if we have not found peace with our inner selves. I think that we are wasting our time if we don't really know what speaks to us yet. But including myself, why is this so hard to do? What is the roadblock?

Sherry, to me you are struggling for all of us here with the real problem.  There is one thing we are supposed to knowthe truth and peace of our innermost souls.  And another thing we cannot denythe unsatisfactoriness of our actual circumstances.

I want to say as plainly as I can that Innermost House did work for me, perfectly and completely, and that I only found peace with my inner self once I entered it.  It is true that I made my way to that peace through many new beginnings, but each beginning was itself an Innermost House in the making.  

Of course we are all different.  Or are we?  I don't think I could ever have made my way to Innermost House and the blessed life it holds for me if I had required of myself first peace within my inner self.  It never occurred to me to expect such a thing.  I was only aware of feeling my way toward something I remembered before remembering.

What I remembered that made the world so unsatisfactory to me was a perfect unity between my inward self and my outward circumstancebetween what I enclosed and what enclosed me.  What I enclosed did not come first, it all came together.  When I was born into the house of my life, and for an eternity before the remembering began, the world was whole.  The peace I felt within myself was a mirrored reflection of the peace that surrounded me.

So our search for Place was not a search for inner peace, but a search for the peace between innerness and outerness.  We sought the contained and the container.  Strangely it did not seem too much to ask to either of us.  It seemed the most natural thing in the world.  And my husband is as persistent as I am stubborn.  We were determined to find it.  We grew nearer and nearer to it. Then at last we failed.  It was only after our search came to an end that it came to us—the perfect wholeness that lay before remembering that I found in Innermost House.

What does that mean?  I can only say what it meant to me.  It meant I never waited to be at peace within myself, but sought always a place with which I could be at peace.  It meant I sought a place not of my own beginning but of Beginnings, both in our town places and in the homes we made.  It meant that I did not wait to hear what spoke to me, because my independent existence in the world was part of the distance I wished to close.  It meant I listened instead for that voice of Place that spoke only of itself, that breathed the breath of all life from the earth to the heavens.  

Our search for Place was a search not for what I wanted to be true but for what must be true.  I found my freedom at last, not in more freedom, but in Necessity.

The mystery remains, but I would say one thing more.  The places we sought were the places of towns.  We did not seek to get away from civilization, but to find the heavenly city on earth.  If we ended in the woods, it is only because that is where we found it.  


  1. This is so well expressed, and makes clear for me, better than anything you have written, the linking of beautiful necessity, Place, and the sense of completion. It certainly resonates with my soul - I feel that inner affirmation "Yes" when I read it.

    But when my imagination reads on to the practice of it, I cannot conceive of that separate from community. When you speak of "the ground that fed the sheep whose fleece made a classical suit of clothes; the ground that grew the trees that bore the galls for inks that wrote Bibles, and yielded the posts and beams of fine houses; the ground that made the umbers and ochres of beautiful paintings", my heart leaps. I suddenly see the life of Rembrandt, of Michelangelo, of Leonardo da Vinci, of Vincent van Gogh, Degas, Henri de Toulouse Lautrec, even Jesus - and everything makes sense. I see how what they were arose in a *context*.
    Then when I look around me today, I see no context and no community. It is as T.S.Eliot said in The Rock,
    'When the Stranger says: "What is the meaning of this city?
    Do you huddle close together because you love each other?"
    What will you answer? "We all dwell together
    To make money from each other"? or "This is a community"?'

    And it seems to me that unless and until there is community, and the community lives according to beautiful Necessity, and lives with sensitive responsivity to the Land, then all we are left with is what you describe so vividly:
    "that modern life suspends us at so great a height above the guidance of Necessity that we cannot feel her body or hear her voice. Our life was distant from the food we ate and the drink we drank, from the clothes we wore and the houses and towns in which we lived. We were distant from our books and pictures and furnishings. We were as distant from our work as we were from our studies and entertainments."

    For how can one bring all these elements into harmony alone?

  2. Oh, YES, Ember! CONTEXT. Beautiful Necessity + Place + a Sense of Completion = Context. Perhaps Innermost House, Diana and Michael, have been for us the left side of the equation. If so, WE are the right side. We are the context now. Each of us is a germinating seed of community, I think. To my everlasting dismay.

    Now, in my own Ascent into Nothingness, I'm reminded of the magnetic quality of Innermost House that Diana told us about. The drawing power of the Innermost Life, and the hunger for it that clearly exists in the world. Indeed, I've only mentioned my hopes to one person in the neighborhood, a lady pressing me for an answer to "OMG Julie! What the H are you going to DO?" When I told her, she looked at me like a had wings on my face. "You can't do that. It's crazy." However, lately there have been folks stopping me in the road as I've walked wanting to know something about it. Offers of help. "I might know where we could get some windows" and such. WE, you see.

    So it seems that as the Lorences searched for a more hidden and inconspicuous life, they were gradually launched into notoriety. Even Mr. Lorence, for all of his invisibility, is now a conspicuous man. Sigh.

    Clearly, for all of my hopes of being "Alone at Last", I'm inadvertently offering myself as a seed to be planted in fertile soil. A curiosity and a colorful character in a particular community. A gazing-stock. Again: SIGH!

    I had altogether forgotten my mathematics: Both sides of the equation must MIRROR for the problem to be solved. Context. (sigh once more...)

  3. My context of community is very small. I really think that we need each other. But we must be willing to give and receive. I have neighbors within shouting distance and we don't visit back and forth, unless there is a need. I like it that way. When I lived in town that sort of thing didn't exist. No interaction at all. Julie, just the fact that people are noticing (and finally paying attention!) to your plans shows community.
    Even when you are living in your secluded little house, community is somewhat necessary. I get a great feeling of security from people noticing if my car has been gone too long or not at all. Lots of times things are taken care of without my even knowing about it! You will need that! They don't have to be "in your face", just there, paying a bit of attention as you would also. I would consider myself to be a semi-hermit, but I have to function in the world to support myself, so I try to make that part of my life as content as possible.

    A sence of place really does have to come from within, but I do agree that the surroundings are very conducive to inner peace. Where I live is a place like that, but there are still some drawbacks. Too much yard that I can't take care of, house repair that I cannot do. Like Julie, I could sell all but a tiny snippet of my home and have my tiny house down the hill and it still is a consideration and a dream.

    1. Here is what I intend to do about my "lawn", Sherry. I'm going to scorch the grass with my flame-thrower and over-seed the whole thing with a perennial wildflower mix. A half acre or so of bright flowers right up to the house. The colors change throughout the season. No more shaking my kidneys out with the lawn-mower.

  4. I am living in a 11x12 electrified, no water Space for the winter now.

    I am in a liminal state in many ways. This Space, I believe, is temporary/transitional. I have transformed the shed into a serviceable cabin for habitable purposes over the last few weeks.

    I am looking for my next Place. I am also looking for what my next Space will be.

    I fight with questions along the lines of, "Is geography or Place/Space ever the problem or do I need to do further work with my spiritual life?"

    I used to think that geography/architecture was never THE problem, but I do believe that the weather, culture, and economic offerings of Place can make a big difference.

    But I do deeply believe one could sit in a cold wet cave contentedly if their spirit was fully realized.

  5. D.B. do you have a picture of your abode? You should know by now that we are a community of shameless voyeurs :) I like to call it inspiration, lol.

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  7. Sherry,

    Let me finish the interior--I still have bare insulation in places. Be forewarned, it is no IH. It is basically a shed that I have insulated and turned into a livable space. I do have a new tiny wood stove that is made for canvas tents--fur trappers and elk hunters use them--that is soon to be installed. Once I am fully in place and out of my few moving boxes with the wood stove giving off needed heat, I'll send out a cozy photo.

    But my point is: how important is Space/Place and how important is spiritual state of mind regardless?

    Plus, this is Diana's IH bare-all and I am not nearly as bravely publicly open or eloquent.

  8. Long time no see, D.B. I hope you're keeping well. I also look forward to seeing your nice place. You might have answered your own question, dear. It seems that while your mind was busy dreaming and planning, and your hands were busy working, a concern for spiritual things has come up on its own. It looks like you have it all going on in a balanced way. I've often found myself in the same quandary: Worrying about what to worry about first. To an earnest person such as yourself, D.B. every good thing will come marching toward you in perfect formation. No worries. Your friend, Julie

    1. Julie,

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Leave it at this--I have taken the unbeaten path as of late to land in this rough cabin much to the chagrin/shock of loved ones and colleagues to turn things over to--what is to me--a higher more obvious and peaceful order.

      It is comforting for someone to know the resonance of the same bell--long after it has been rung.

  9. "Our search for Place was a search not for what I wanted to be true but for what must be true. I found my freedom at last, not in more freedom, but in Necessity."

    At the very end of my former marriage, I was told "There is no such thing as what you need, Julie." Hearing it stated so baldly is what made me know for sure that it MUST BE TRUE; that is was a NECESSITY, and that my God was not a trickster Who had placed me here with a need that would not be fulfilled.

    Now I have a granddaughter who, from the time she was about three years old, has talked of having a tiny house without electricity--believe it or not. Over a year ago, her Daddy put up a little Tuff-Shed for her in the far back corner of their acre. There she kept some of her things: a little soft chair, some of her books, some treats, and a bit of her artwork on the walls. And there this highly strung little girl would go and smooth herself out. A few months ago, a drunk driver lost control of his vehicle and took out two fences on the property and demolished Jade's tiny house.

    Inevitably some day, someone is going to say to the woman Jade that there is no such thing as what she needs. But she already knows better. It is my aim also, that she be able to say "Come on to my Grandma's house and I will prove you wrong." --because it must be true. It is a necessary thing.

    1. So truth Julie. People tell me all the time that what I need does not exist. I was almost at a point of believing it. Just in time I found Diana, you and all of you to speak of this.

    2. Or allowing someone to make us feel guilty as to why we would "need" a place of our own.

      D.B., I think spiritualty definately is foremost, but place can certainly play a huge part in the process. It is hard to pray/meditate in the middle of a busy freeway!

      Even tho I dearly loved my late husband, there was no place for "me", just "us". Most of the time that was ok, but there was no way that I could get away from the TV or his chatter. He was quite the talker! I slept a lot because the noise just wore me down.

      Now that I have the house all to myself, I still don't feel like I have that sanctuary because my kids and grandkids are in and out so much. I want them to come. But I crave a small place where only those I chose would be allowed. At first I wanted to do what Julie is planning. I still could by taking a small slice of my property and selling the rest. But I think it is too soon (for me) to make that decision. Julie said that "every good thing will come marching in (my) direction in perfect formation." So far it has. It has been a difficult couple of months since my husband passed, but all things have gone smoothly in spite of my lack of patience. I have learned that I will be taken care of one way or another.

      I had my little "hidey holes" as a child. Maybe I thought the world was way too big? Maybe I didn't feel understood? But in My Space I could do and be whatever I wanted! Maybe we should become as little kids, they don't really care what others might think, they just know what they want.

    3. Great message, Julie. I am with you Bri and Sherry - people have also been looking at me a little sideways when I share my feelings that my next home will actually be 2 or 3 small 'cottages' so that I can have one to myself, one for my teen age kids (so they always feel they have a home with their mother) and hopefully the third for guests (I have a large family and a half dozen really close friends that are committed to visiting). This may seem extravagant or excessive to some of you, but I would expect the total square footage to add up to less than 750 square feet so still under the size of a typical home.

      I thought of buying a lot in the countryside with a very small 'electric' home with plumbing that had good design for catching the southern sun, and some thermal mass and adding solar panels and energy star appliances and fixtures (although still minimizing appliances!! -- this would be for the guests including my parents who I know will be more comfortable visiting if there are a few modern conveniences.

      The kid's home could be simpler. It could share the solar energy from the panels from the first home (my kids come with electronics) but also make use of a composting toilet and heat storing fireplace and on-demand water heater.

      I would like my little house to be non-electrified and to make use of a composting toilet and heat storing fireplace/cookstove/oven.

      I must confess that I would like to make use of a large tub for soaking and an infrared sauna also for detoxing.. so having one cottage with a good hot water and electrical supply would be necessary but I could put these in the 'guest' house for regular use by me in between guest visits.

      I remind myself that there are no rules to downsizing and living simply... as long as we are conscious of what we are doing and not wasting energy or space. Some people would add a work room / garage for their hobbies or tools.. I would add the soak tub and sauna. :)

      Sherry, I read of a couple who wanted to try living 'smaller' than they were so they closed off one bedroom of their 2 bedroom apartment and saw that didn't miss the space and so they downsized to a one bedroom apartment. Then, they closed off some space in that apartment and purged excess stuff.. and then were ready for a tiny home. You may already have areas of your home closed off, but I thought this was an interesting exercise to mention for others here. The idea is to totally close off the space and not use it at all to see if you can function without it for holidays, gatherings, etc.

      This exercise is something I am working on doing but I must admit to having a little stuff in storage quite far away that I must go through. It feels a little like cheating to have a bunch of things in storage when I am living simply :) I will be heading there this weekend to see what more I can purge..

  10. Diana, this was a very thought provoking post and I am still digesting it.

    One part I am very curious about, and perhaps a little confused about, is when you said:
    "It meant I never waited to be at peace within myself, but sought always a place with which I could be at peace. It meant I sought a place not of my own beginning but of Beginnings, both in our town places and in the homes we made. It meant that I did not wait to hear what spoke to me, because my independent existence in the world was part of the distance I wished to close. It meant I listened instead for that voice of Place that spoke only of itself, that breathed the breath of all life from the earth to the heavens."

    I am wondering if the process of living in so many places not only helped you to create the ideal living environment but also helped shape you to 'become' the ideal environment (within yourself). It may not just be the 'Place' but that you were lucky enough to find/create the 'Place' at the same time you found yourself. Does this make any sense?

    1. I have moved around A LOT. It really made for a fractured life. Maybe that is why I don't have that many memories as a child. But I counted (and probably missed a few) moving at least 55 times in my life. I am 57. I always felt like I was housesitting for someone and never really settled in.

    2. Wow! That is a lot of moves. I have moved 22 times in 47 years but most of that was from 18 years on and therefore not as traumatic.

      Have you accumulated a lot of 'stuff'? Would the stuff you use fit into a small space? You mentioned that you felt you weren't ready to make a decision about moving and that certainly follows the advice I have read about waiting a year after the loss of a partner before making any major decisions. I hope you can find a way to make the space your own where you are for now despite the visitors. I would love to hear more about the changes you do make towards your IH.

    3. Leah, I am not much of a "keeper", but there is still plenty of stuff that I could get rid of! Plenty. I don't think I would have to buy a thing to move into a tiny house.

      Yes, when it comes to where I live, I am, for once, gonna stay put until I know whether to go or stay. I think I will know.

      I really haven't had the heart to do much to the house, but it will come. I have been thinking. But guess what! I am not a minimalist! I was beginning to feel guilty because I had things that I didn't really need but didn't want to part with. So now I am in a color splash mood. No color and few decorations actually depress me. So I have found out that much about myself!

      Small, but cheerful is what I need.

  11. Diana, Throughout your search for the peace between innerness and outerness,did you ever consider living in an earth-bermed house which blends into the landscape?

  12. Simple minds like simple solutions, and I usually come back to the same conclusion: Fossil fuels have allowed us to become so detached from the reality of life that we forget that we are living creatures of the Earth. Our transportation, clothing, food, light, heat, cooling, entertainment - everything - is tinged with the seeming magic of cheap and unsustainable fossil energy. How does one smell the rich earth of a farm field when the food is wrapped in plastic and shipped across a continent? How comfortable can an old pair of jeans be when they were sewn in a sweat shop in China? It's the way we are drawn to the truth in all the most basic things in life that keeps me coming back to Innermost House.

    1. Sorry, I got lost in my own thoughts and neglected to make a clear connection to the current post. What I meant to say was that fossil fuel and modern conveniences have allowed us to largely ignore Place. Instant heat in winter. Instant cooling in summer. Any food we want in any season. We are insulated from the richness and reality of the places we are in, and we forget what it is to be a part of a natural, dynamic system.


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