Last night's Happier Hour with Dani Shapiro? Pure magic. The setting (Pure Yoga West) was serene and stunning. The wine (St. Francis Wild Oak - 100% hand-crafted from hand-picked fruit) was delicious, the food (Peacefood Cafe) was vegan and scrumptious. And the speaker, Dani herself? Downright exquisite.
Honestly, I didn't know how last night would go. I didn't know how a bevy of Manhattan women would handle the fact that they would have to slip off their shoes and recline on yoga bolsters. I vastly underestimated my comrades. People were happy to plod around barefoot and to take a seat on the floor. The atmosphere was peaceful, almost profound. Candles flickered, conversation hummed. Happiness snaked through an assortment of smiles. There were many smiles.
When the program began, Dani and I sat side-by-side in chairs. I introduced Dani, read a brilliant passage from Devotion, and then, per Dani's wise suggestion, we proceeded in a casual conversational style. What ensued was an organic and unplanned exchange about identity and religion and life. Dani speaks as beautifully as she writes. Her voice, soft but strong, carried soothingly. Her words, well-chosen and effortlessly arranged, cast a welcome spell on us all.
The conversation was rich with story and question, with personal details and universal threads. It was as if in listening to one woman's story, we were all glimpsing our own. I wish you could have been there because it is hard to describe. But here I try. Toward the end of the evening, Dani asked if she could borrow for a moment my dogeared copy of her book. Of course, I said handing it over. And Dani flipped to a page in her own story and began reading. The passage was about a "diminutive woman, perhaps in her early seventies, with short gray hair and an impish, dare I say Buddha-like, face." A woman named Sylvia Boorstein.
"The whole world is a lesson in what's true," [Sylvia] said. "Everyone is struggling. Life is difficult for everybody. Once you're in, there's no way out. You have to go forward. And we all die in the end. So how to deal with it?"
The words sliced through everything: through my racing mind, my rapid pulse, my general state of agitation. That was it, wasn't it? In a few simple sentences she had addressed the essence of what I felt. She knew about the roller coaster, the slow ascent, the rapid downward plunge. I was here. I had reached my life. I had built it by decision and by accident-- and there would be no other. So how to deal with it?
Devotion, page 35
Last night, these words, Dani's words, sliced through everything: through my scattered mind, my fractured focus, my general state of overwhelm (I am moving in two days and am a bit of a mess). That was it, wasn't it? In a few simple sentences, Dani, with the help of a sage woman named Sylvia, had addressed the essence of what I felt (perhaps what we all felt, whether we are willing to admit this or not).
I am here. Struggling in the way everyone struggles. I have reached my life, a life that is good and laced with difficulty. I have built this life by decision and by accident. And there will be no other. So how to deal with it?
And? You are there. Struggling in the way everyone struggles. You have reached your life. You too have built this life by decision and accident. It is yours. So how to deal with it?
So how do deal with it? I don't pretend to know the answer. But the question is one that echos in my mind this morning, this good Wednesday morning. Maybe we deal by opening our eyes, and minds, and hearts. Maybe we deal by stumbling and seeking. Maybe we deal by devoting to our days, by carving meaning in our moments. Maybe we deal by collecting and cherishing the wise words of others who suffer and struggle alongside us, and with us, in this thing called life. Maybe, in the bright sunshine of summer days, we deal by squinting to see the teachers who hover close. The Sylvias. The Danis. Maybe, just maybe, we deal by simply continuing to ask in our own imperfect ways.
Thank you, Dani, for last night and even more so for slicing through the tangled knot that is my mind.
- Do you agree that everyone is struggling and that, on some level, life is difficult for everybody?
- Have you ever encountered someone who said something that sliced through your mind and captured the essence of what you've been feeling?
- Would you be game to mingle barefoot and sit on the floor during a talk?
- This is life. So how to deal with it?