“I had begun to feel–and it was a bitter feeling–that the world could be divided into two kinds of people; those with an awareness of life’s inherent fragility and randomness, and those who believed they were exempt…I didn’t know that there was a third way of being…The third way…had to do with holding this paradox lightly in one’s own hands.” (Ch. 57)
Devotion: A Memoir, by Dani Shapiro, was released in January of 2010. This intimate exploration of Shapiro’s spirituality was inspired by her son’s innocent questions about God and the afterlife that she couldn’t answer. In small chapters and reflections, Shapiro reveals how a yogi, a rabbi, and a Buddhist helped guide her on her journey toward understanding. While she doesn’t necessarily find the answers, she at least learns to ask the questions and find peace with her doubt, her process, her heritage, and her loved ones.
I thought I’d dip a toe into this memoir and read it in small bites with all the other books I’m reading, but it edged out everything else. Ms. Shapiro’s voice is at once confident and unsure, serious and humorous, quiet and assertive. Her honesty is captivating, and she has the courage to name many of the struggles of family, career, and spirituality that others have difficulty articulating.
I enthusiastically and widely recommend Devotion. There are a thousand gems worth mentioning in the book, but without their context they lose their impact. I’ll leave you with this small passage from Ms. Shapiro that sums up one of the simplest (yet most challenging) ways of finding meaning amidst the chaos of daily life.
“One afternoon…Sharon Salzberg spoke about a Buddhist teacher in India, a widowed woman with many, many children who had no time to sit on a cushion, meditating. How had she done it, then?…How had she achieved her remarkable ability to live in the present? The answer was simply this: she stirred the rice mindfully.” (89)