I recently finished reading Dani Shapiro’s Devotion, her memoir and reflections on spirituality. A number of people I know whose tastes in books I highly respect had suggested I read Devotion. Being on my own spiritual and creative journey, I was hopeful I would enjoy the book, but I was wanting it to also teach me something, show me different paths, help me see life in a new way. Dani’s words lived up to these high expectations, resonating with many of my own experiences and feelings, and reflecting back to me lessons I’ve learned but need to be reminded of.
Dani is Jewish and hails from an Orthodox family, but she has strayed far from the strict edicts of her faith. She practices yoga and meditation, living some of the Buddha’s teachings. She learns from Sylvia Boorstein and Jon Kabat-Zinn, visiting Kripalu for silent retreats. And yet, she is also pulled back to traditions of Judaism, markers of her upbringing, rituals that still resonate deep within her. While not believing any one religious path in whole, Dani has embraced the parts that help her to be grounded, connected, rooted. As someone who was raised in an Irish Catholic family, who has moved far away from this tradition while seeking other paths that speak to me, I appreciated the way Dani finds a spirituality that fits for her. I found refuge in seeing someone else who has crafted a hodge podge of beliefs. I also was jolted to pay attention as the coincidences in experiences were borne on the page–one of my previous therapists had given me a copy of a Sylvia Boorstein’s book, and my first yoga teachers were trained and lived for years at Kripalu.
One of the lessons from Devotion that I want to carry with me comes from something a meditation teacher shares with a class at Kripalu. She says, “It’s painful and unskillfull to compare, no matter what conclusion we draw. Comparing creates agitation in the mind.” As I’ve written before, I struggle with comparison. It crops up in almost every area of my life, a constant evaluating of self in contrast to any and everyone around me. And it’s true, so very true, that no matter if the evaluation du jour is “better” or “worse,” it is painful. It is toxic. Comparison kills creativity. Comparison cuts you off from being your true self. I want to hold this message close, allowing it whisper in my ear and drown out the impostor demons.
In hanging a mezuzah on the frame of her family’s front door, Dani writes that although she doesn’t wholly believe the mezuzah will protect her family from all harm, it is “another daily reminder–right there on the doorpost of our home–to stop for a moment. To take a breath. To pay attention and listen well.” I love that. It made me think of my trip to New Mexico last April when I purchased an eagle fetish, a Native symbol that serves as a reminder of the connection with the divine, a soaring spirit that transcends personal problems. The woman from whom I bought this beautiful fetish, hand-carved from a single shell, told me that the eagle helps us “remember what matters.” Little did I know then that I’d be starting this blog three months later as another way to focus on what matters.
I don’t believe this eagle will completely shield me from getting wrapped up in all the little, mundane stressors and pressures of my everyday life. But it is another daily reminder. It beckons me to take a breath. To pay attention and listen well.