Book Review: Devotion by Dani Shapiro

Cover of "Devotion: A Memoir"
Cover of Devotion: A Memoir

I read Devotion in two days/two sittings. The structure of the book – chapters starting right where the last ended – made it difficult to find a place to stop reading and I loved it. Dani Shapiro’s narrative was so personal and spoke to me on such a deep level and that structure gave me permission to keep reading…just one more chapter. What Shapiro wrote about: Is this all there is to life? If so, why do I feel like something’s missing?, and the spiritual quest that she began, is something universal to many of us these days as we watch the ground we once thought was impenetrable disintegrating before our eyes. Shapiro has what seems a charmed life, but at the root of her quest are a lot of loss, deep loneliness, and an inability to relinquish control of the uncontrollable. For those who have experienced great loss and tragedy or have come through a “near miss” it is very difficult to trust that everything will be okay. Instead, they spend most of their time thinking about what bad thing might happen next and how they can avoid it. Shapiro addresses how “…we’re all complicated by the way we were raised” as she tries to come to terms with her strict religious upbringing and the guilt she feels for seeking other ways to find God  and meaning in her life other than just the Judaism in which she was raised.  

I loved the interweaving of samskara (our knots of energy that each tells a story) throughout Shapiro’s narrative. She says, “Release a samskara and you release that story. Release your stories, and suddenly there is more room to breathe, to feel, to experience the world” which is what she is doing by writing this book. We are all a compilation of these stories. Some we share. Some we cannot bare to acknowledge. I equally loved Sylvia Boorstein’s metta meditation chants (the condensed version). I believe it is a wonderful way to begin a meditation routine and is something so simple that we can bring it with us wherever we go. There is also a practice Shapiro discovers at a California yoga studio that she incorporates into the end of her yoga routine that is again so simple, yet extremely powerful.

There are so many stunning moments that pierced right through me, so many questions that I have asked myself sitting right there on the page. Shapiro writes in such an accessible way you feel like you are taking the journey with her, discovering what she is discovering right there with her, and equally feeling her frustration at the lack of solid answers to the existential questions that haunt us. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is unsettled and is searching for that elusive something that will help them feel more grounded. Keeping an open mind and reading about others’ experiences are the best ways to move towards that more peaceful state of being even if we find that there are no answers and we must just “live inside the questions.”

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