Saturday, April 03, 2010
Stories in Our Bodies?
A while back I posted an article by Dani Shapiro on the challenges of the writing life, written no doubt as part of the promotional campaign for her new memoir, Devotion. (Shapiro is a publishing veteran, and I'm sure she knows it's best to get your name out there in every way possible when a new book is released). I somehow assumed the memoir would deal with the same topic, so I requested it from my library. When I finally got the book, however, I discovered it was more about her mid-life spiritual crisis--a very popular topic in U.S. publishing these days thanks to a large audience of Baby Boomers at a similar place in their lives. It was a very quick read, not exactly a good sign for such a book, but I did happen upon one passage that I liked a lot. And here it is:
…Some of my greatest moments of clarity—those little eureka moments of truth—had happened in unlikely places: wheeling a card down a supermarket aisle, driving along an empty stretch of highway, lying in bed next to Jacob as he drifted off to sleep. And I knew from my yoga practice that those insights are already fully formed—literally inside our bodies, if only we know where to look. Yogis use a beautiful Sanskrit word, samskara, to describe the knots of energy that are locked in the hips, the heart, the jaw, the lungs. Each knot tells a story—a narrative rich with emotional detail. 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. I wanted to release my stories and find out what was beneath them—I wanted to work with the raw materials of my life—but I wasn’t sure how to do it.
So, the rest of the book is pretty much Shapiro's attempt to "do it," and I didn't find that especially compelling as I mentioned, but I could definitely relate to this idea of epiphanies or moments of sudden clarity to be a release of "knots" already embedded in our bodies. That's because often--maybe always--when I hit upon a truth in my life, I feel a lightening, a lifting, a physical release, generally in my chest area (my heart?). Now Shapiro presents it in a way that you might think these epiphanies are like buried treasure, maybe some ancient knowledge that is hidden with us from birth. I'd guess it's somewhat different: a difficult problem in our lives tends to create bodily tension that we hold inside us, sometimes for many years. The moment of clarity is indeed like shining a light on this tangled mystery and the very naming of it releases that tension.
I also like the idea of storytelling as a way to create more space in my life. That's how it feels to me, and more and more I appreciate experiences that make my heart and my mind feel more spacious.
Meandering on in the classic Japanese essay style, I'll conclude by saying that I have a large collection of cookbooks, many just for historical or cultural value, but a good portion I refer to for actual cooking. I consider a cookbook worth the money if there are at least three recipes I use over and over, but one really great recipe will do the trick. This paragraph from Shapiro's memoir saved the read from being a total waste--so thank you, Dani--but back it goes to the library this afternoon, to make room for more nourishing reading!
The photograph above is yet another from my summer vacation that will not be used in a blog post because I've decided not to bother finishing that particular memoir. It's the view from my oldest sister's terrace, set on a lovely woodland property near Monticello. Taken in high summer, I think the greenery is nonetheless appropriate for this weekend's celebration of spring and new beginnings.
Happy Passover and Easter to everyone!