An open heart

A few weeks ago I finished the book Devotion by Dani Shapiro. Since reading it I’ve been, in the words of Kristen from Motherese, buffering. I wanted to resist the overwhelming temptation to come running here and profess, yet again, that my life has been changed by a book.  And I’m not alone in this. Lindsay of A Design So Vast did the same after she read it.

So I’ve sat with it. Reflected. Considered. Pondered. And it has stayed on my nightstand. Whispering to me with newfound knowledge and inspiration.

What is it about these books that is influencing my life so much? Why, suddenly, do they affect me so deeply? I think I finally understand. It came to me just a few days ago as I considered, yet again, how far I’ve come and why. They are unlocking a deeply buried part of me that I didn’t know existed. They have opened up a world of deep comfort and self understanding that was previously unavailable to me. Devotion and Hand Wash Cold and Raising Happiness and several others, my treasured and dog-eared books, filled with notes in the margin and underlined passages marked enthusiastically with !!! They speak to me. The words, the wisdom, and the feelings they evoke are providing me with the path I needed to discover me. They offer the clarity I needed to burn off the fog.

Devotion is one of the most well-articulated, elegant books I have ever read. Dani’s words are full of intensity and overwhelmingly insightful and compelling. This book is simply beautiful. It’s about Dani’s journey to find meaning in the face of her troubled relationship with her mother, after the intensity of her son’s life-threatening illness, and because of her struggle with her father’s death. She writes in equal parts about her own life and in discussion of spirituality.

In just the first few pages, she says of her father:

He died when I was young, and everything I am-everything I’ve become since that day-is because of him.

Of course, you can understand how these words would speak to me. How, as I face a similar journey of my own and attempt to find my own peace as a motherless mother, this passage so simply said would evoke an intensity of kinship. She asked and I wept:

How to hold steady and also let go?

But my connection to her words transcends even this. It comes from my own desire to fill my life with meaning and peace. From my need to quiet the unhappiness and honour the joy that is right in front of me, for both my own sake and that of my family.

Just as with Hand Wash Cold, I am struck by Dani’s profound wisdom and how gentle and meaningful the guidance she provides. She reached out just by being, through her desire to untangle the thoughts in her head and a commitment to question and provide honest reflection. 

My ability to be present in the world with an open heart depends on my ability to be present to myself with an open heart.

Oh yes! So true and yet such a struggle. To accept ourselves, with all our flaws and weaknesses. Not only to accept but to love and cherish. This is truly the ultimate challenge.

I urge you to read Devotion, particularly if you’ve ever had questions of faith and spirituality or if you feel something is missing and long for a deeper sense of self. Dani calls us a seekers, “driven by an insatiable desire for knowledge, awareness, wisdom, peace.” To this I say, indeed. Indeed I am compelled to better understand myself and in so doing perhaps live a life that is a model for my children, a model of contentment and strength.

I leave you with Dani’s words:

Please allow my heart to open to all that is.

This I hope I can continue to do.


18 thoughts on “An open heart

  1. says:

    When I put out a call on Twitter last week for memoirs, you responded with Devotion. I will pick up my hold from the library next week!I also highly recommend "Seeking Peace" by Mary Oliver. A second recommendation is "Lit" by Mary Karr. Maybe I"m on a Mary kick.I'll let you know about devotion, but I too seem to be on a path that is rounding out the spirit. Maybe it has something to do with the pneumonia-recovery!

  2. Corinne says:

    Devotion was such an amazing, powerful, inspiration book that over a month later, I'm still digesting. I need a second read. Lovely observations and insights, really 🙂

  3. Lindsey says:

    Oh, Christine – you know how I loved this book too. Your reflections are moving and honest, crystalline somehow – like you really get to the essence if what I, too, took from Dani's memoir. Thank you.

  4. Jack says:

    It sounds intriguing. Think I'll take a look.

  5. TKW says:

    Reading Hand Wash Cold right now and enjoying it. Devotion is on my list…I hope I get as much from it as you did.

  6. Nicki says:

    Again, I have this on my must read list but just have to get my hands on it!After my little tweet to you last night, the words you have here really touch me and are pushing this book up the list.

  7. Rudri says:

    I've read Hand Wash Cold and plan to reread it again. Devotion is on my bookshelf and I am going to start it today. Your review prompted to take if off the bookshelf and turn the page. Thanks Christine.

  8. Aging Mommy says:

    After reading The Happiness Project recommended to me by many people I was put off all "inspirational" novels there for a while as I thought it was dreadful, the only thing it did do was make me laugh at the preposterous notions that one woman could do all those "tasks" each month.But Christine, after reading your recent posts on these books and how they have inspired you I am going to dip my toe back in the water and seek them out at the library.

  9. Denise says:

    You know, I've just finished reading Devotion. And, interestingly, have been sitting with the treasures Dani left me…and doing it purposefully. I haven't written about it yet but plan to. I, like you, "seek to fill my life with meaning and peace." Lovely.xo

  10. Becca says:

    I need to pick up this book. I've heard so much about it but your reflections on it make it that much more intriguing for me. I feel like these books are a lot of "work" for me though because I internalize so much of it and overthink what I'm doing wrong or right in my life. But Raising Happiness really did help me so I think this will be worth a read too.

  11. Sarah(casm) says:

    I`ve been wondering about this book after seeing it mentioned a few times. I'm curious about the take on faith – is it a Christian perspective?

  12. Jana @ An Attitude Adjustment says:

    So after I read your post this morning I immediately put a request in at the library. (I try not to buy books anymore. You should see my house. We're overrun.) I can't wait to read it. It sounds like it's right up my alley. What am I reading now, you ask? (You didn't, but I'll tell you anyway.) Laura Bush's biography. I'm really interested to see what makes her tick, and I read the first chapter in Borders a few months ago. I was floored by how beautifully written it was. I'll let you know about both! (Oh, how I love books! Can't wait to talk about them in person with you.)

  13. Alita- Da Mainiacs says:

    I've been (not literally) dying to find a book that can suck me in. The last couple novels I've read have been ho-hum. Maybe I'm not getting anything out of them because I set my mind against it before I even try. This book that you describe sounds like something that I may enjoy right now. We are at a crossroads in our life. There are so many balls up in the air, and many of them I have no control of what so ever. So I need a book to enjoy. To ponder on. To reflect in soft sighs. I'm going to have to seek out this offer. Thank you for the suggestion Christine.

  14. Celeste says:

    I have been kind of disconnected from the blog world the last couple of weeks. I have been trying to focus more on work when I am here and my family when I am there. Sometimes it is easier to just live more simply. I have been enjoying my days of not asking myself too many hard questions. And then I read this. And I wonder: Am I disconnecting because it is sometimes hard to face parts of my life that aren't so clear? You asked yourself "how to hold steady and also let go". Oh do I get this, Christine. Sometimes I find it so easy to hold on but then I realize days/weeks/months later that I am not able to let go. I have been thinking for months now that I should read Devotion. But, as Becca puts it, it is definitely going to be 'work' even if it is enjoyable and satisfying work.

  15. evaevolving says:

    Christine, I myself have been buffering after first reading this post last week. It is beautiful and just overflowing with meaningful tidbits. I'm reading Hand Wash Cold right now, and trying to savor it in a way – to not rush through it, to let the words really soak in. Next I look forward to Devotion!Ah, and you are not a motherless mother. Your mother's essence lives in you and through you. Your instincts, your blood is hers. You know her more than you realize.

  16. […] by Dani Shapiro was intensely evocative. Her words whispered to me, filled me up with a sense of beauty and wonderment. The connection came […]

  17. […] on my heart—Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life by Karen Maezen Miller, Devotion by Dani Shapiro, Buddhism for Mothers, by Sarah Napthali, to name a few. Each has played an […]

  18. […] the year since I first read Devotion, my beloved copy has been dog-eared and phrases underlined with the wispy grey of my pencil. Her […]

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