Friday, November 30, 2012

Ten Paces


I am deeply moved by your beautiful words.  Thank you Julie and Sherry and Pam, you constantly reassure me.  It makes a difference.

I am so glad to meet you Nicole.  Your new comment back on The Conversation post recalls a world of memories to me.  The abandoned child. The orphanage.  The why?  I think you are right that the Conversation is a forever seeking of Place in the world, of our Place and Place itself.  


Rebecca, you touch upon so many points so near to my heart that answering you as I wish to do tonight is beyond me.  I'd like to address what to me is the essence of your story, for I believe I recognize your experience.

Leah, a few weeks ago you speculated about Innermost House that, "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."


That is simply true.  Speaking only for myself, the Innermost Life is outwardly very simple but inwardly deeply complex.  The relationship between that simplicity and that complexity is a Mystery.  It is the central mystery of my life.


Rebecca, your story of the difference that just thirty feet between your big house and your little house has made in your life at home is so vivid.  In everything you say I recognize my own experience.  The fire.  The storm.  The silence.  


To me, the world is the "big house" you leave behind when you walk to your studio.  The world is full of luxuries and comforts and conveniences, but just ten paces into the woods it relaxes its hold on us a little, and we relax from our dependence on it.  Those are steps toward the simple life of having less and wanting less and doing little.  There is great peace in simplicity. 


And then there is the fire.  The actual experience of it.  The gathering of wood and the kindling of flame.  The warming of hands, the cooking of food, the feeling of making the difference yourself.


Inward still of all that, a living complexity of inner life truly awakens.  Who has looked into the fire that burns between herself and cold and hunger, and not heard the voices of countless human generations, and felt their dreams and thoughts and lives all live at once again?  Around the fire is born the Conversation.


For decades of my life I thought what I wanted was simplicity, for then all I knew of life in the world was its endlessly complicated web of seeming advantages.  


But what I found at last in the Innermost Life was a simplicity that opened inward upon complexity.  That inward complexity is to me the innermost thing, distant-most from the complications of the world.  


It was that inward fire of Conversation that was missing.  It was the complex and beautiful inward order of life that opened to me there in the woods around the fire.



Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Prayer to Me Now


Innermost House has become a prayer to me now.  That is what I found.  It is my prayer forever.  I shall always be Diana of Innermost House.

I held my breath in hope of rebuilding Innermost House as long as I could.  But now I understand that may not happen.  I have to breathe again.  I have to find another way to speak and be in the house.

I want to move inward with you toward the peace of the house in my heart, toward stillness, toward such words as you and I can find together.  I want to feel my way toward simpler writing.

Gary, what a very generous understanding you have.  Thank you for finding the words.  JoAnn, you too found the words.  I am so grateful to you.  And Leah, it means so much to me that you remain open to the evolution of this Conversation.  I know it isn't always easy!

Alice, your words are beautiful to me.  I am more wondering  than wavering, but please hold my trust with yours just the same.  Julie, you understand.  You always find the words.  I cannot imagine this Conversation without you.  Or without you Pam.  If I do not always understand all your words, I know that you do, and you encourage me.

M.W., I just realized you were the first to say that Innermost House is beautiful. There that night in the woods, all those years ago.  The very first.  Won't you please write to me on the Innermost House website?  I have no other way to reach you.

Has anyone who has lived so alone ever had better friends?  Thank you all from my heart.



Monday, November 26, 2012

Thank You All



I hope you all enjoyed a beautiful, happy Thanksgiving holiday, as I did, thinking of you.

I took the weekend to read back through our four months of conversation together.  It was such a grateful time for me to revisit your many kind words. Thank you all.

It will soon be a year since the night I left Innermost House for the last time.  I chose to leave that secret world in order to share it more openly.  Yet looking back over my own words, I see how far I have failed to share the truth of the Innermost Life.

My last posts attempted to recount a Thanksgiving week, but I failed even to touch the essence of it at all.  I do not mean the facts are wrong.  But the feeling is missing, the difference.

For as different as Innermost House appears to be from other houses, the life of it is immeasurably more different within.  It is the within-ness I find so incommunicable.

Through our seven years in the woods I observed a curious phenomenon among visitors.  It was as if the essential character of a person would rise to the surface of their life as soon as they entered the house, almost upon the instant.

Sometimes the revelation of that essence was sought and welcome, sometimes it was not.  I would watch religious people surge in their faith, poetical people break into verse, delicate people burst into tears.

Then I would see skeptical people become watchful in their suspicion, and proud people grow stiff in their resistance.

I did not say a word.  Innermost House only needed to be seen and people would speak from their innerness.  Then they would know.  And I would know.

In a way I think the photographs say what I cannot.  It is the first impression that tells.  If I could, I would find a way of sharing Innermost House over and over again for the first time only, for that is the truth of how we lived in the woods.

I sometimes feel my words dull that first impression.  I fail to leave you and the house alone.  For it is not I who can make the difference.  It is the house.  I don't know how, but I have seen it happen.  It is the house that awakens a person's inner life, whatever their inner life may be.

I no longer think there will be another Innermost House.  It does not seem intended to happen.  I don't know of course.  I am still listening, waiting to know.

I need to find a way to share the house without me in the way.  Perhaps pictures alone are best, or pictures along with a very few words.  

I would like articles to be published everywhere, first time after first time, and gathered together here.  And there is the picture book I began before I knew I would leave.

Thank you all for seeing yourselves in Innermost House.  I am feeling my way still, as I have always.  I am feeling for new beginnings we can share together, seeking out quiet ways to illuminate the house in our hearts.


Friday, November 23, 2012

In a Quiet Spirit


Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving with a family at their home here in the East.  The landscape along the way to their house wore the colors of remembering—the gray spray of bare trees, the rust of late-turning oaks, the brown grasses.


It was a very festive gathering, full of holiday fare and happy friends, of delighted children and excited dogs.  All the fixings of a proper feast were present, and everything was enjoyed.  When at last we left to make our way home in the dark, there were hugs and expressions of affection.  Even the dogs raised a howl and cry of farewell.


It was all as far from Thanksgiving Day at Innermost House as it is possible to imagine.  It was so real, it made me realize how far my posts of the past days have been from expressing the reality of the Innermost Life.


I feel a need to pause and reflect, to feel my way toward the center of the Conversation we share.  I think for now, let's pass a few days in the quiet spirit of a happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Thanksgiving Afternoon


It is middle afternoon.  Outside the woods preserve their winter twilight. Thanksgiving dinner has been cooking over the coals in the hearth since late morning.  The hours have passed in the kind of wakeful stillness I always associate with Innermost House.

The pot is ready to come off the hearth.  We don't have bulky potholders, but instead use two palm-sized squares of black sueded leather, which also serve Michael for handling the hot tea kettle.  They have the advantage of simplicity, if the disadvantage of regularly disappearing into the darkness.  


So the first thing I do when the pot is ready is look for the holders.  It is a daily ritual for me.  I proceed in the faith that they must be somewhere.  Thankfully we haven't many places to look even in our shadow world.


The built-in pine cutting board in the kitchen holds the hot cooking pot so there is still plenty of room on the counter.  The standing space in the kitchen is less then two feet wide by three feet deep, but I have never needed more.  


I recall a friend's visit to Innermost House, in whose Carmel beach cottage we have often stayed.  She stepped into our kitchen and filled the room, just as I do.  She just stood there for moment in a kind of daze.  I understood.  We live in parallel worlds.


I choose my favorite pair of bowls for the occasion, earthen-colored and finger-ridged by some unknown Japanese craftsman.  These homely bowls are now approaching a hundred years old.  The man in Japan who made them is gone; the man in San Francisco's Japantown who sold them to me is gone; the people who first lived with them are gone.  


Yet here the bowls stand in the late autumn light.  The sight of them fills me with a strange sense of wonder at our being a part of their history now, and they being part of ours.      

I remove the heavy lid from the pot and have to call Michael in to see the transformation.  It is another daily ritual.  I have seen the stew transformed like this from the raw to the cooked hundreds of times, and so has he.  But this time is this time, and it is always the first time in Innermost House.


While the hot stew cools a little Michael opens the red wine and pours it into a small green-glazed bowl we share between us.  I usually only take a taste or two.  With dinner I mostly drink water.  


I bring in the bowls, each on its own wooden tray, and set them on low stools beside our chairs.  Before we begin we sit quietly for a moment.  The afternoon light streams into the darkness across the wall over Michael's chair. The quails call their autumn cry outside.  The fire is mature with warmth and welcome.  There is so much here to be thankful for.


We eat with the wooden trays on our laps in our low chairs.  The wine and water bowls rest on the broad, flat chair arms.  So for surfaces we have our laps, the stools, the chair arms, and the hearth.  Together they serve as a several-leveled low table.  So close as we are to the raised hearth, we have the sense of sitting very near the floor. 


Michael washes up, which greatly increases the likelihood of the bowls surviving for another century!  I serve some of the aged local cheese and ripe fruit from the farmers market, along with apples we picked yesterday here on the farm. The recent cold has nipped the apples into an especial sweetness you can actually see when you slice into them.  In a homely semblance of the Innermost Life, they turn translucent around the core.  

Our special Thanksgiving meal is like any other dinner we share at Innermost House during the cool weather months.  The ingredients are much the same, give or take a carrot or two.  Somehow that is the way it is supposed to be.  

I have to think for a moment what I mean by that.  I think I mean that thanks-giving to me is for what is
everydaythe ordinary things of this life.  It is the ordinary goodness of things I am so grateful for.

If the sweetness of an Innermost Life depended on a wide variety of pleasures served in a wide variety of ways, it wouldn't be the Innermost Life.  To me Thanksgiving Day is not a holiday from ordinary life, but a holy day in celebration of the translucent sweetness of life at the core.   


Monday, November 19, 2012

Thanksgiving Morning

Pam, you reach in from your life toward the farm, I reach out toward the farm from the woods.  We meet at the farmers market!

James I smile back at you.  How many times in my life I have been grateful for a smile.

Often I do not see what I am saying until you repeat it back to me.  Yes Ember, the peace of wholeness.  As I look back upon Innermost House, I think there is nothing I am so thankful for as the peace of living in wholeness with the inward world.

It is so true about having your cupboards full, Sherry.  In that way every market day is a little Thanksgiving.  Of course it helps when you have so few cupboards. You can fill them up and hardly have to have anything!

Julie and Leah, it really is grand to just get by.  That is part of what makes the difference for me about Innermost House.  There is so much grandeur in so little.

And Alice, you have me remembering the years when we did not have fire.  I have faith in your faith.  You too are building beautiful memories of being true to your Innermost Life.

Thanksgiving morning!  Winter mornings always begin with the cold at Innermost House.  On the coldest days the chill never really passes, but lingers in the corners with remnants of the night.  The cold and dark are essential somehow.  I would not dispel it if I could. It makes a space for the candles and the fire in the way that hunger makes a space for the meal.

We do not light a fire this morning, but we do have a hot breakfast that we take back up to the warmth of our bed.  Eggs and sweet potatoes have been baking all night in the embers, and with a little fruit they make the perfect beginning to a Thanksgiving day.  When we step outside into the morning sun it actually feels a little warmer than it did indoors.  I don't think it really is warmer, but the sunshine makes it seem so.

We cut wood each week during the winter months, keeping just ahead of need. Limbs and branches enough for a year are gathered and stored upright under dense scrub oaks just at the edge of the woods.  We keep the pile high and loose so that it is not too tempting to the woodland creatures.

Though we have enough cut wood on the porch to burn for a few days, we go out to choose some especially interesting branches to burn for the holiday.  Fruit tree prunings can be very beautiful.  I especially love cherry with its dark glossy bark and striated markings, and apple with its lichen blotches of green and orange.

We do the cutting right on the porch.  It's pretty light work—which is easy for me to say since Michael does all the working!  He doesn't use an axe or maul as we have elsewhere because we don't split the small pieces of wood; he just uses a light garden saw to crosscut them.

We position a branch twig-end outward on the porch so that it extends beyond the edge.  I stand on the thick end to keep it steady while Michael stands down on the ground and saws off length after length, each one less than a foot long so we have enough room in the firebox for the trivet and kettle.  I enjoy watching him work—and soon at least one of us is warm.

We go inside to lay the fire.  Michael makes different kinds of arrangements depending on the cold, the length of the burning day, and the holiday or mood. Today he lays a fire of apple tree branches with the twiggy spray of an oak tree atop, acorns still attached.  He calls me in from the kitchen to watch it take flame.  Whatever I'm doing, I like to watch the first few minutes of a new fire.

In the kitchen I'm cutting up vegetables and greens for our Thanksgiving meal. There are onions and carrots and tomatoes, brussel sprouts and broccoli, eggplant, cauliflower and kale.  I wash and cut each into size according to toughness, but everything will have plenty of time to cook.  I don't cut anything too fine because we prefer the ingredients to maintain some of their separate character.

Before I put anything into the pot I rub a little olive oil over the inside.  We use so little that instead of buying jars of oil I use the oil from a small jar of sun dried tomatoes.  After I have everything in I add a little water and some wild rice on top.  And today I add half a jar of marinara sauce.  Olives are the only other food I buy in a jar.  These all say refrigerate after opening.  The whole house is a refrigerator!

Our one pot is a French cast iron oven with black enamel baked on.  Of all the pots I've ever used this is my favorite.  It is the perfect size for the two of us, but big enough for guests if we serve other foods with the meal.

It is almost unbelievably easy to care for—I just wipe it clean as soon as I've filled our eating bowls and the heat it retains will dry out all the moisture.  It is a very Useful Pot.

It takes about an hour before the fire begins to yield cooking embers.  When it does we pick out the hottest ones from the heart of the fire and move them over to the trivet, where a hole is dug in the ash to contain them.  Once the pot is on we continue to renew the embers for perhaps three hours while the stew cooks.

The food will be cooked enough to eat in two hours, but it tastes best after three.  The feeling of sitting at arm's reach from the fire and the food for hours—well, that is difficult to explain. We and the food and fire are somehow one thing.

We sit there beside the sights and scents and sounds of the hearth and we speak of everything together—the season and the harvest, the shape of history and the harmonies of the world.  We are grown together like the foods in the stew we await.  I have so much to be thankful for.

  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Market Day


It is strange, the desperate corners into which the world will sometimes drive us for aliveness.  Ember, how well I know the feeling that drove you to pitch a Great Plains Tipi in the garden of an English manse.

Leah you ask about a cave.  That was another desperate corner.  Through the length of our long search, I sought most of all for freedom—freedom from a world that made no sense and held little attraction to me.  By the end a cave seemed a way to shut out the whole modern world, and I was willing to pay that price for my freedom.

But my husband sought above all for the peace of wholeness.  Now I realize that it was actually peace I longed for too—the peace of the wholeness I remembered before remembering.  It is only that wholeness would not yield for us until we were free.  I grew into the belongings that Michael chose to complete the house.

Caves and tipis are places of freedom.  In the years before Innermost House there seldom seemed anything in the world worth having that did not just add to the burden of unreality around me, so I seldom wanted anything.  The only places I much enjoyed shopping were farmers markets.  From Paris and Cambridge to Bruges and Salzburg, these were the places I felt at home no matter how far from home we were.

It wasn't until we moved to Innermost House that we were able to make the local farmers market our main source of food.  I felt liberated by the limitation of making do with the produce of my own neighbors' fields, if that makes any sense.  

For our first years on the farm we had no car, so a local teenager used to do our weekly shopping for us.  Those were our innermost years, when I was glad to be relieved of all commerce with the world outside.

Later, when I began speaking about Innermost House, we got a car and started venturing out once a week for necessaries.  I found that the outdoor market somehow added to the peace I enjoyed at Innermost House.  When I awoke on market days my first thought was of the farmers and their booths of fruits and vegetables and flowers.

By the weekend before Thanksgiving Innermost House is cold in the early morning, but on market days we light no fire.  I collect my two shopping baskets—one big one of oak splints and another smaller one of wicker—from the shed closest to the path and we're off, bundled up in tweed jackets, wool sweaters and gloves.

We make our way through the woods to the car at the bottom of the field. Michael opens all the doors of the car, looking for signs of mice.  I'm grateful not to find a nest in the glove box or under the seats.

From farm to market is about a twenty minute drive.  It's always crowded, no matter what time we get there.  Much as I love our solitude on the farm, I love the market crowd.  Vendors and customers are cheerful and everyone is interested.  Everyone seems to know someone, and everyone is buying something.  There are singles and couples and parents with children and lots of grandparents and almost everyone seems to have a dog.  It's all very lively, the more so for the chill in the air and the autumn color in the trees.

I am never looking for anything in particular at the market.  I just get whatever is interesting and beautiful.  Today I end up with carrots and onions as always, and broccoli, kale, eggplant and cauliflower.  As a treat at this time of year the brussel sprouts come still attached to their long, heavy stalks.  I feel fortunate to find even a few somewhat sad looking tomatoes.  

There are beautiful young and aged cheeses.  The egg man fills my carton with his eggs of many colors.  I choose some grapes and pears and persimmons.  The apples we still have from home.  

For Thanksgiving I add some wild rice and chestnuts, and some of those sweet potatoes with purple skin.  A local vintner helps me choose a bottle of his wine, and I get some cider to warm over the fire.

One woman comes every holiday season with lovely wreaths she makes from grapevines and greens.  I choose a plain vine wreath I will decorate later with berries and pods and greens from the woods.

There is a truly beautiful dried gourd the color of autumn that I choose from one farmer.  He tells me it is his favorite too, and seems to regret having to part with it.

I am finished.  I've made two trips back to the car to drop off the heavy produce, and I feel giddy with all the treasure.  It feels like enough to last a lifetimewhich is just about what a week in Innermost House amounts to in my mind.

They fit together perfectly to me, the house in the woods and the farmers market in the world.  They make a whole between them.  They share in the quality of the beginning.  Each is an occasion of thanksgiving.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Gleanings



You are very welcome Kimberley.  I am so glad you wrote.  I am glad your father found a place of freedom and peace to rest at last.

In a real way, Innermost House was born out of a search for freedom and peace. Freedom from a world that made no sense to me.  The peace of an Innermost Life of meaning.

To me, the fire is the heart of peace at Innermost House and, in many ways, it is the heart of our freedom.  To how many hundreds of human generations has the scent of fire meant freedom from wandering and the peace of homecoming? With fire I found my way back to the beginning.

When we first came to the land of our new home, fire was all we were sure about.  We had left everything else behind, so we had no need to shelter anything but ourselves.  I felt a fire at the mouth of a cave would have served for me.  I felt I could do without a house, but not without a fire.

By the time our first Thanksgiving Day in Innermost House approached seven years ago I was still becoming accustomed to our new life.

We had moved into the house four months before, on the Fourth of July weekend.  The house did not yet have its cabinets or shelves.  It did not have its final floor.  Even our door was just a makeshift piece of plywood put up for the occasion.  Much remained to be done but I could not wait to enter into that place of peace and freedom.

We kindled our first fire before the end of September.  For a couple of months we were able to scavenge bits of prunings that were scattered here and there at the edges of the orchards nearby.  But by the week before Thanksgiving it was getting cold in the evenings, and we had no store of wood for the winter. 

Our fires were so much of the place that it never occurred to us to purchase cords of wood as we had done elsewhere. So we set out on the land in search of winter fuel.

Autumn comes late in California, and the sycamores and cottonwoods and maples at the forest's edge and along the creek were coming into color.  The orchard trees were harvested, their leaves and windfall apples moldering in the orchard soil.

The orchard scent was new to me, full at once of life and death, of joy and mourning.  It is strange how easy it is to feel grateful for what little you have when the scent of parting is in the air.  I suppose that scent will always mean Thanksgiving to me now.

The light, too, was new to me.  I felt I could see a thousand miles into its perfect stillness.  At the same time the long shadows cast by that low light seemed almost to bend with the weight of the ages.  The world of light and scent there on the land was full of feelings.

The orchards are kept clean in a workmanlike way during the growing season. But with the autumn they are surrendered a little to the wild.  The bands of wild turkeys roam them again, and wild pigs search for nuts and apples.  It is as if the orchard world of autumn were in retreat from the hand of cultivation.

We stopped from time to time to add some picked over apples to our basket. But we mostly kept to the edges.  The orchard riches are for farmers who have earned their harvest with their labor.  We belong to the edges of life. We come after.  We are the gleaners.

It was at the edge of a lower orchard that we came upon our treasure.  A great heap of prunings had been dumped out of sight onto the wooded slope that fell away toward the creek. 

We just stood and stared for a moment.  The afternoon had grown cold as we searched, and the shadows had overwhelmed the light.  There in the covert before us lay treasure enough to provide a whole winter's bounty of warmth and light, of cheer and Conversation.  It was all ours for the carrying.

In later years we would gather firewood from our neighbors' orchards, where the prunings would otherwise have been burned in the field.  Through all our years at Innermost House our wood came of orchard gleanings.  We were grateful for every gift of fuel, but for that first year's discovery most of all.

Light prunings make for young, fragile fires.  They are always at the edge of our awareness, whatever else we may be doing.  We know what our fire needs before it needs it, and we look after it with pleasure.  Big fires give much more, and require much less.  Tending our little fires is our way of giving thanks for this first, best friend to domestic life.

Our fires at Innermost House are as far as can be from a furnace you turn on and forget, and pretty far even from the roaring fires of family gatherings.  It is a first fire, forever young.  It is an inward fire.

Our life as we lived it at Innermost House would not have been possible without fire.  It is our link with nature, the living difference between light and darkness, between warmth and cold.  Most of all it is a beloved companion to our inward life.

I think back to those early settlers in whose memory we celebrate Thanksgiving. I imagine that, before the peas and pumpkins, before the beans and corn, before even the Thanksgiving turkey, they must have been thankful for the fire.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Peace


Vanessa I am so grateful you chose to step inside and join our Conversation.  I too have observed the way the silent world of birds and beasts inclines toward our own inward peace.  Perhaps taking care with words is a way of preserving the peace between us.

I am delighted to meet you James.  Thank you for your gentle comments here and on those several posts past.  You have the gift of simplicity!

And Gary, we meet as fellow travelers.  Handcrafts, classics of all kinds, the Shakers, William Morris and the Kelmscott Press, and the tea ceremony were all important steps along our way to Innermost House.  I look forward to answering every one of your questions over time.

I attended a Veteran's Day parade over the weekend.  There must have been three hundred veterans altogether, men and women, old and young.  Most walked.  Some were in wheelchairs.

It was a very homely assemblage.  None were in uniform, there was no formation, and no distinction of rank was made.  There was nothing to distinguish them from anyone else until you looked into their faces.

There they all wore one expression, a look of earnest inwardness.  They had shared a common experience of life and death.  They had known Necessity.  It was an expression of utter seriousness and selflessness.  We were there with them, but they were in another world.

The simplicity and spontaneity of the march was as far from a military maneuver as can be imagined.  People stood or walked alongside the moving parade, cheering out their encouragement and thanks.  I just applauded and cried.

Veteran's Day does not celebrate a victory.  It does not mourn a loss.  It is simply a way of remembering, an acknowledging and giving of thanks.  To me it is a fitting beginning to the Thanksgiving season.

A friend walked with me to the end of the parade route where some short speeches were given.  He guided us into a perfect spot for watching the sun set over the sober gathering.

We found ourselves standing next to a man my friend recognized as a veteran, and asked why he wasn't in the parade.  When I heard I encouraged him too, but we could not persuade him.  So there we three stood together watching until my friend had to leave.

Afterward, when the man and I were left alone, I asked him about his experience.  He had served in Vietnam.  He wouldn't say much, but it was clear he was still haunted by it even after all these years.

He spoke of how divided he feels still, drawn to such gatherings and yet keeping apart, still torn by the tension of involvement in a world that left him a divided man.

I thought about him for the rest of the day, and I am thinking of him still.  I do not know the right and wrong of things like war.  But I am grateful to that man. And I am sorry.  I hope he finds his way to an innermost place of peace.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Innering Time


When I looked in on your words this morning I was greeted by something approaching Great Silence!

It was so like my experience of Innermost House that I wrote a little about it. Now I return to find it not silent anymore!

Sherry, you speak of therapeutic words.  I have lived so far from the world of therapies and cures that I had not thought of it that way. You are right.  The Conversation we have shared here has been therapeutic to me.

I have gone round and round trying to put into words my experience of the Innermost Life, and again and again you have all somehow understood me.  You have often explained me to myself!  In a hundred different ways you have said, "We love you and care about what happens in your life."  Thank you for saying those simple words Sherry.  Thank you all.

Still there is the silence.  I have always found silence a companionable presence.  I have many times rested on her breast.  She has many times restored me.  Silence at Innermost House echoes from the walls.  It is in the bowl of tea we share, in the looks we exchange, in the common air we breathe.  It is a shared silence.

It was a need of silence that first took us to Innermost House.  We needed silence to feel the failure of our search for Place, and to search out its meaning.  It is for that reason I suppose that when we first moved to the land we were looking for a cave.  A cave would have been nothing but silent emptiness.  

Innermost House was in many ways a kind of cave.  But out of that inner emptiness arose a question.  And out of that question arose the Conversation that grew to fill out our empty space with food and drink and fire and books. Innermost House came to enclose, as some of you described it recently, the whole of a mystic life.

I passed a long while in silence after Innermost House.  It was the silence that restored me.  But it was your words that healed me.  How generous you have been with your words.

I think of those days now as I look forward to the realization of your plans and dreams.  I know how impossible it all is, and how necessary.  The world, for such people as we are, is uninhabitable without our innermost place, whatever it is, wherever we may find it.

For some I think it may prove to be a wholly inward place, though of that I have little experience.  For others it will be a room or a corner of a room, as it has been for us many times.  For others still it will be a spare house, hardly furnished but for the things of prayer.  Even in the littleness of my own life, there have been so many possibilities.

Some I think are born for silence.  Others for words.  I was born for the Conversation between the two.  But here even our silences we must somehow communicate with words.  We have only our words.

Let us meet next time and begin to make our way with words into experiencing life at Innermost House.  It is autumn, the innering time.  I have longed to prepare a simple meal again in that little black cast iron pot, set over coals in the hearth at Innermost House.  

Let’s prepare a first Thanksgiving meal together.  In my heart I am so grateful.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Normal to Me


My life has always been a mystery to me. I am accustomed to the world in which I find myself again, but somehow it continues to take me completely by surprise.

Your words took me by surprise today. I confess, sometime I am a little mystified by all this learnedness! I have read and reread your comments, and even followed Dewey's link to the book about mysticism. The title intrigues me—Practical Mysticism: A Little Book for Normal People.

If there were ever to be a book about Innermost House, I would like it to introduce people to how practical mystery can be when walled around with a little house for normal people.

Everything about Innermost House is made to be practical, though it may not appear so from the outside. We built and furnished it out of so many years of trial and error that it was bound to be practical at last. And you would be amazed at how practical it can make you to live in the woods in the winter cold in an unelectrified twelve-foot square house!

For simple practicality I can think of almost nothing I would change in the next Innermost House. Perhaps I would build a little bath house beside it with wood-fired hot water. I don't think I would add anything else. I wouldn't remove anything. I wouldn't make the house any larger.

Even the beauty of the house—for it is beautiful to me—is practical in an everyday way. In many ways that is the most practical element of all. Perhaps nothing changed my life so much in our move to Innermost House as being surrounded all day and night by what I find beautiful.

Still, for all our experience in preparing for it, we didn't know it was Innermost House we were preparing for. So when it finally did take shape it took us by surprise. The surprise deepened over time into mystery.

Perhaps the greatest mystery is how Innermost House grew out of the seed of the Conversation. I still feel that strongly, but I cannot explain it. I cannot perhaps because the Conversation is too near within me, and the house too near around me. That relation remains as strange and indescribable as a dream.

I love dictionaries and encyclopaedias. They are so solid and useful. We had reference books of all kinds at Innermost House, and I was forever looking things up. Our books are in storage now, but I looked up the word mystery on the internet.
mystery (1)
early 14c., in a theological sense, "religious truth via divine revelation, hidden spiritual significance, mystical truth," from Anglo-Fr. *misterie, O.Fr. mistere "secret, mystery, hidden meaning" (Mod.Fr. mystère), from L. mysterium "secret rite, secret worship;

I do not think of the mystery of Innermost House in a theological sense, though perhaps some of our more learned guests did. It was certainly secret in the sense of being hidden. But it did not conceal any secret rites or worship. All it concealed were two chairs, a fire, some books, some food and drink, a man and a woman and their married conversation.

a secret thing," from Gk. mysterion (usually in pl. mysteria) "secret rite or doctrine," from mystes "one who has been initiated," from myein "to close, shut" (see mute (adj.)); perhaps referring to the lips (in secrecy) or to the eyes (only initiates were allowed to see the sacred rites). 

To close the eyes. To close the lips. Yes. Darkness and silence are inseparable from the experience of life in the woods, and at Innermost House that woodland presence is intensified. But our guests are not held to any kind of secrecy. There isn't anything about the Conversation they can remember to repeat anyway!

I sometimes think that the uniqueness of Innermost House is distracting. We searched over half the world looking for it, so I know it is an exception to the prevailing way of life. Still, what I found at last in the woods was only the normal-ness I went looking for, a way of life that feels simply and wholly normal to me.

normal (adj.) 
c.1500, "typical, common;" 1640s, "standing at a right angle," from L.L. normalis "in conformity with rule, normal," from L. normalis "made according to a carpenter's square," from norma "rule, pattern," lit. "carpenter's square" (see norm). Meaning "conforming to common standards, usual" is from 1828, but probably older than the record.

That definition satisfies me. Innermost House shares a common nature with other houses where individuals have sought an inward life. Rooms and houses of its essential confirmation are found east and west, from ancient and medieval to renaissance and near-modern times.

It is so true to its type that those who are meant for it seem to fall into the most perfect familiarity with its size and shape in the course of their first visit. It gathers all things into a living order; it is reasonable and square in a proper carpenter's kind of way. It is the pattern of a foursquare house.  

Perhaps what is normal to me is more a matter of what is normal over whole epochs of human time. Dark and light, night and day, cold and warmth, love and loss, life and death. Innermost House is where the ordinary rules of the inward life really do apply.

I don't know if I am a mystic. Perhaps we all are inside. I don't know if the Conversation is a mystic experience. If it is, then I have shared it with a world of visiting mystics! To me it is all blessedly normal.  

Innermost House is a Practical Mystery: a Little House for Normal People.