Woman Gives Up All, Becomes Homeless and Hungry for Spiritual Life

Inette Miller writes of being homeless, hungry in book, "Grandmothers Whisper."

August 23, 2012, 3:13 PM

Aug. 24, 2012— -- Inette Miller, who had served as a Vietnam War correspondent for Time magazine, stepped out of her comfort zone and did something daring in 1997: She gave up all her possessions.

The award-winning journalist sold her house in Oregon, gave away her furniture and moved to Hawaii to live with a man she had met and fallen in love with on a short vacation.

She uprooted her 14-year-old son from school (her older son was living with her ex-husband) and embarked on a simplistic life with the man she loved, sleeping illegally on public beaches and owning no more than would fit into her aging Toyota Camry.

Miller, now 66, writes about her decade-long journey in her memoir, "Grandmothers Whisper," and now lives a nomadic life with her lover turned husband, Iokepa Hanalei 'Imaikalani. "We had a deep sense of destiny that we were to be together," she told ABCNews.com. "That's the glue."

It took her 13 years to write the book, which she scribbled on yellow legal pads and self-published in 2010. But only now, is the book gaining more attention because Miller lives a stark life with no telephone and few financial resources.

"We live in a noisy and distracted world," said Miller, who said she did not find her choice easy, but has since found peace.

"The radical stripping of possessions that [Miller] and her husband have done is not unusual in history -- monks and ascetics do it," according to David J. Ekerdt, director of the Gerontology Center at the University of Kansas. "St. Francis of Assisi gave everything he had to the poor."

"It happens when people enter prison and enter nursing homes," he told ABCNews.com. "But when it's voluntary, it signals a change in the identity of the person."

"Sometimes we want to push things away in order to change, if things are used to support ones identity -- and renounce it in favor of something else," Ekerdt said.

Just this week, the New York Times reported on Ekerdt's research, which is funded by the National Institute on Aging. His surveys of social workers, gerontologists and family members reveal that the sheer volume of possessions in an average household can be a form of "paralysis."

Letting go of "stuff" is difficult, he tells ABCNews.com, which makes the shedding of material possessions so extraordinary for Miller and her soul mate, 'Imaikalani, something they have been able to perpetuate for a decade.

Miller was a Jewish woman from Baltimore and 'Imaikalani was a half-native Hawaiian construction worker raised in the American Northwest. She said her world "cracked open" when they met and his spirituality demanded her "unending surrender."

Together, they set out on a mission -- they would say it's their "destiny": to restore the aboriginal Hawaiian culture, that of the kanaka maoli, and to live an authentic, nonmaterial life.

Until Miller met 'Imaikalani, she was a single mother raising two teenage sons. She was living in progressive Portland, Ore., in a glass-walled house on a hill, filled with books and antiques she had collected over 30 years.

At 51, she took an impromptu trip to Hawaii after finishing a manuscript and met 'Imaikalani, a white-haired man who communicated regularly with his long-dead grandmothers. They had an instant attraction at sunrise on Christmas morning at an ancient heiau -- a sacred ancestral gathering spot on the Island of Kaua'i.

"When I left Portland, I left a trail of friends and family who feared I'd stepped off the deep edge of Middle Earth," she writes "They were not far from the mark."

That same year, 'Imaikalani, 46, left his "material life" in Washington state. After hearing a "prophecy" from his ancient grandmothers, he sold his home and closed his bank account and multimillion-dollar construction contract.

"Everything was surrendered to reclaim the life of the ancestors and their authenticity," said Miller. "It was a matriarchal culture that for 12,000 years was without warfare, without hierarchy and without gender segregation."

Her relationship was painful. "Friends say I was so lucky to find a soul mate. But that's a little, mixed-up idea. That is where the work begins."

Their relationship was turbulent -- after all, they had only known each other for two weeks before Miller made a commitment to return to Hawaii. "We were human strangers," she said. "We lived together and were even married, but in those first years I was struggling. But I love this man. That's why I am here."

'Grandmothers Whisper' Wins Visionary Award

In 2010, the couple left the islands to tour the mainland United States, bringing their message of returning to ancient values and putting more than 95,000 miles on a borrowed car.

The couple talk about the grandmothers' prophesy at bookstores and in people's homes, never taking money for their time and staying with locals.

"We are still living exactly as we did - a jar of peanut butter between us," said Miller.

They never know their next stop and rely on the "guidance" of the grandmothers -- and serendipity. "A Canadian couple was on vacation in the Island and took us to lunch," said Miller. "We get an address and someone flies us to Seattle."

They never solicit money for their work. "We are invited to someone's living room and a dozen people are there and put something in the donation bowl," Miller said. "What goes in the bowl is exactly enough to get to our next stop."

This summer their touring was interrupted when they were in a car wreck with a drunken driver in California. The car was destroyed and Miller suffered a concussion and broken ribs and a bruised lung.

She felt compassion for the man, who had just been released from prison -- and for the generosity of the community that pitched in to help her while she was hospitalized. "He went to jail at 31, the age of my oldest son," she said. "We all screw up."

Miller insists she is a rational person even though people get "freaked out and mad" when she says she hears voices. The grandmothers recently told the couple to stop sleeping on the beaches. Friends have loaned them places to stay and a car when they go back and forth from the mainland to Hawaii.

"There is nothing New Age about it," she said of the grandmothers' whispers. "I am simply telling my story, that's all. I am an old journalist -- the definition of a skeptic."

As for her youngest son who was taken along for his mother's adventure in austerity, he put himself through college. "There was no money," she said. In spite of the rough years, he graduated magna cum laude and is teaching English in Korea.

"This kid's a writer and some day he will write his version and it won't look anything like mine," said Miller. "He's told me I don't show enough remorse for what I put him through."

Still, Miller said her son has good memories of the sunrise and rainbows when they lived on the beach.

Miller said she has no regrets about her choice. "The truth is I feel happy and fulfilled," she said.

"My husband's experience was that he had an epiphany," she said. "I have never seen his faith shaken for a moment."

But for Miller, giving up her "stuff" for a more spiritual life was "an amazing transition for me, a sense that there is something more in this world."