Tuesday, 27 March 2012


 I am more grateful than I can express for the Innermost House Facebook page coming into being.

I’m always alert for people who can help me learn, and the Innermost House conversations have inspired and interested me like nothing much else has in a long time.

The Innermost principle is so beautifully simple it’s more or less self-evident – one of those learning moments that allows you to appropriate what you knew anyway but could never quite find your way to, if you know what I mean.

The Innermost principle is that you start from the inside not the outside, in making any kind of decision or choice.

Looking at the wonderful pictures of Innermost House, oftentimes a wail of frustrated longing goes up from visitors to the Facebook page, along the lines of “But that won’t work where I live because the climate’s different / I have a family / we have too much stuff / I live in a town . . . etc.”

But that would be applying the conventional principle of starting from the outside not the inside.  The frustration comes from looking at the externals – this particular little wooden house in the North California woods – and trying to apply it to different people in a different context.

What makes it “Innermost” is not North Carolina, not the woods, not the lack of electricity, not the wooden structure – but that it expresses the innermost self of who lives in it.

So it cannot – repeat cannot – be copied.  That is to say, it is in the nature of the innermost principle that emulating it won’t work. 

The only way for me to arrive at the Innermost way of living is to start with who I am, not who Diana Lorence is or anyone else.  So every person’s Innermost House will be different. One person’s Innermost House may be large and airy with lofty ceilings and light streaming in through huge windows, someone else’s may be a squat little cob dwelling with a living roof and a goat browsing on it.  The Innermost House of a collector of antiquities would not look like Diana’s place.

The only way to make an Innermost House is to grow it out of one’s own imagination, deepest yearning and most private heart’s vision.

I have been helped immensely in an area of long-term struggle by applying this Innermost principle.

Over the years I have spent a horrendous amount of money on clothes.  I buy economically and seek out bargains – I’ve just bought a lot.  I don’t keep the clothes because they never really end up being what I want, so I never at any given time own a lot of clothes – I just buy a lot.  And a part of me has felt miserable and guilty for the longest time about this.

Applying the Innermost principle to this I can see what the problem has been.  Sometimes, in love with Gandhi’s way of simplicity, I’ve dressed in saris.  Sometimes, seeing the beauty of the Amish way, I’ve worn Plain Dress.  Sometimes, in love with the idea of being an English lady I’ve dressed as English ladies do, twinset and pearls. Sometimes, captivated by the Hutterites, I’ve dressed as they do.  Sometimes my mind hearkens back to Ina May Gaskin’s Caravan and the hippie revolution, and I go all cheesecloth and beads and Janis Joplin. Sometimes, loving the peace and dignity and serenity of Buddhist monks and nuns I try their look.  Or this. Or this. Sometimes, despairing because I look so effing weird I’ve turned to the advice of Trinny and Susannah and re-modelled myself accordingly.  In between I revert to hearing the internalised voice of my mother telling me how much better I’d look if only I wore this thing which oddly enough exactly reflects her own choices and preferences – and I try that.

And always I end up looking in the mirror wondering what went wrong.

I think two things went wrong.

The first was ever looking in the mirror at all.  Everything has been way better since we passed on the great big mirror that hung in the hallway downstairs.  It was supposed to introduce light but it had an agenda of its own and introduced tyranny as well.

The second thing was that every one of those looks I aspired to came from outside myself.  I was always trying to look like something or someone else.

If I apply the Innermost principle and start with my heart’s core, I find I can interview my soul, and begin a conversation that goes something like this:

Q: So, innermost self, what do you want to wear.

A: Well . . . I like blue.

Q: What?  You aren’t meant to wear blue!  You had your colours done!  Blue is not one of your colours – except midnight navy blue or teal blue.  Is that OK?

A: I do like midnight navy, but I like sea blues and grey blues too.  And I like a kind of soft gentle blue like the mother of Jesus.

Q: OK.  Blue.  Anything else?

A: I like grey too.

Q: Grey?  Brown is your colour, not grey.

A: I do like brown, but I still like grey though, because it’s a quiet colour.

Q: Oh dear.  What about shapes?

A: I like my things to be soft and comfy.  Not tight fitting at all, and stretchy.  I like everything to be stretchy.

Q: But your middle-aged figure needs some definition.  A tailored jacket nipped in at the waist would help – and a gored skirt and some high heels, and make-up.  Don’t you think?

A: I like my Birki sandals.  And my grey fleece hoodies.  And my old blue t-shirt.  And stretchy trousers with high waists.  And I don’t want to wear tights ever again.  And I tell you what else I hate so much they almost make me ill – nylon petticoats.

Q: But surely if you don’t wear nylon petticoats, in cold weather your skirts will stick to your leggings and start bunching up and make walking difficult- you wouldn’t like that, would you?

A:  Well, don’t make me wear skirts then.  Let me wear trousers.

Q: OK, sorry if this sounds cruel: you are a plump middle-aged lady with a bottom the size of a planet.  Do you know what you look like in trousers?

A: Yes.  But I don’t care.

And by thus interviewing my Innermost self I have come up with some answers about the clothes I can be happy in that walk a completely different path from all the advice (and elevated spiritual admonition) I have received.

My Innermost wardrobe can be small and simple, but equipped with things that I (not Gandhi, not the Amish, not the Hutterites, not Trinny & Susannah, not Buddhist nuns, not Gok Wan, not the Duchess of Kent, Gandalf or Beatrix Potter, Yoda, Ina May and not my mother) actually like to wear.

The same Innermost principle can be applied to food, lifestyle, occupation, faith-path – absolutely anything in life; including the thing that sparked it all off in the first place – the kind of house you put forth about you.

I know this all sounds a bit selfish – everyone following their bliss and grabbing for what suits ME while the world goes to hell in a handcart – but that’s not where the Innermost principle takes you.  You can trust your heart, your innermost heart, because that is the place where you are joined on to the Holy Spirit.  What that reaches out for is good.

I have found that following the Innermost principle has taken me back to a contentment and ease I last remember feeling when I was about three.  It has taken me also into decisions that look quite self-sacrificing – doing with less, living more simply – but actually are profoundly fulfilling.  It has given me breathing space and made me feel less harassed.


365 366 Day 88 – Wednesday March 28th
  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)  

And there’s the henna powder to go with yesterday's shower cap! 


Daisyanon said...

That's all very interesting Ember. I shall ponder that.

Lynda said...

Wonderful post Ember!

I'm just coming out of the 'mennonite way'. Not their beliefs....mine still line up with theirs more than other denominations (at least at this stage), but their way of dress - cape dress and bonnet only - which I find too restrictive and do not agree is the only modest way to dress.

I'm so glad you've found yourself :o) xx

Ember said...

Hi Daisyanon, hi Lynda -

Yeah, I'm in there somewhere, with all those other people . . .


maria said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Are you sure we are not sisters? Now, at this moment, I am looking deep within myself and seeing myself from the inside out. Not what others want, or what others do, but what I want...what brings me joy!

Clothing is so personal, so much a part of who I am, it has been a hard struggle to accept myself completely, freely.

Our walk is so special, so unique to us, why do we want to look like everyone else?


Ember said...

:0) Well, we do certainly seemed to have walked the same dusty track as each other!!

Pilgrim said...

I grew up Mennonite, but not dressing so plain. I find the struggle to be more against the advertising culture than the social norms of the breathing people I've been around.

Ember said...

Yes. What I am enjoying is the sense of letting go of the sense of obligation to comply with any of the norms, and just be who I am.

Buzzfloyd said...

It seems strange that you should have managed to teach this so effectively without knowing it for yourself!

AbiSomeone said...

Awesome! I completely resonate with all of this. That still small voice will speak God's perception to us -- that we are unique and meant to be what we have been created to be and not like anyone else. It is an interesting journey....

Anonymous said...

A few years ago when I was in debt and paying it off through the Consumer Credit Counselling Service I couldn't afford to buy clothes. My wardrobe gradually whittled its way down to one skirt and 2 pairs of identical boots with holes in the toes and I realised something...we don't needs loads of clothes. I do have more T shirts than I need but I tend to keep the ones with marks on the front because I work at home and no-one sees me. I have 2 skirts that are reasonable and 2 that have holes in in weird places but that's fine and I don't wear either when my mother comes around :-D

Ember said...

:0) Hello friends - thank you for your good thoughts x

Heather said...

This is all so... true. I'm just finding it out myself after all these years of struggling. Your insight about the place inside where we touch the Holy Spirit is most helpful. Guilt that I am not meeting social norms is my worst enemy!! But holding out does, as you say, bring great contentment.
Thank you for sharing this with us.

Hawthorne said...

Thank you, Ember, for once again sorting my muddled thoughts into words.
The older I get the less I worry about what other people may think of the way I dress. My church friends good naturedly tease me because I walk to church wearing tatty (but comfortable) trainers with my long skirt, pulling behind me my woven willow basket on wheels containing my hymn book and shoes to change into, and teenage daughter would faint if she knew I sometimes nip to the shops wearing jeans with lots of home sewn patches! Hee hee!

Ember said...

:0) Living at peace with ourselves - what a treat!

JoAnn said...

Thank you!

A wonderful post filled with truth and light that deeply touched my soul.

Ember said...

:0) Thank you JoAnn x

Asta Lander said...

Have I ever mentioned that a well meaning spiritual director (an elderly man) once told me that Christian women should wear make up and take great care with appearance. I am guessing this would include colouring your hair (mine is grey).It is their Christian duty. I had to tell him that a woman who does not wear make-up (me these days) has not let herself go - the same if she does not wear high heels.
And on this idea about inner and outer - a recent lectionary reading has me pondering...'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside may also be clean.' (Matthew 23:25,26)
Great post. Lots to consider. Asta x

Ember said...

Ooh! Spooky coincidence of bible reading! That added clarity to your thoughts!!