Quite often these days, publishers contact me asking me if I would read a book they are about to publish and review it here on my website. Whenever they do that I think ‘Are you really offering to send me books to read, for free? Does life get any better than this?‘ And then I think, ‘Do you think I’m more famous than I am? Have you mistaken me for someone else?’ And then finally I get real and think ‘When on earth will I find time toread this book?‘
Every now and then someone offers to send me a book that cuts through the sensible part of my brain – the part that says ‘No! Even if you found time to read this book, you have NO time to review it.’ Every now and then a book comes along that defies logic and I have to say ‘Yes. Please. Send it to me immediately.‘
This was one of those books. Because this is a book of essays about yoga, by writers.
It seems like a simple idea, almost blindingly obvious. But I’ve never come across anything quite like it before. The contributors to this collection were invited to contribute not because they are famous yogis, but because they are wonderful writers. Which means, put simply, that the writing is wonderful.
There are essays by Cheryl Strayed, Claire Dederer, Dinty W. Moore, Neal Pollack and – one of my longtime favorites – Dani Shapiro.
In each of these essays yoga is present, but yoga is not necessarily the star of the show. These are essays with yoga, but not really essays about yoga. They are essays about courage, like Ira Sukrungruang’s story of a 375 pound man making friends with his body, and about humility, like Neal Pollack’s story about going to yoga class with his father.
Since Cheryl Strayed is a better writer than me, I’ll let you read her words – from the foreword of this collection:
Perhaps that’s the reason I admire the essays in this collection so deeply. Like savasana, they seem to be one thing—writers on the subject of yoga—but really they’re another: profound examinations of what it means to be human. In these essays there are funny stories, sad stories, moving stories, and real stories. In sharing their experiences with us, each of these writers have tapped into the universal questions that we’re confronted with when we get ourselves down on the mat. Questions about humility and determination. Simplicity and acceptance. About moving forward, doing the work, and most of all, receiving with equanimity what comes next on breath at a time.”
If that isn’t enough to convince you to order this book, here’s an excerpt from Dani Shapiro’s essay in the collection.
On the All Of It
Lately, when I attempt to sit down to meditate (notice the word attempt) I am almost instantly filled to the brim with feeling. This feeling isn’t exactly bad, or exactly painful. It’s characterized more by a kind of fullness that threatens to overflow. My throat constricts. My eyes well with tears. My heart pounds just a little bit harder, to let me know that it’s there. Feeling. Ready or not, seems to be the beat of my heart. Ready or not.
I am writing this at my kitchen table. My family is still upstairs asleep. Even the dogs have left me alone. This is not the usual shape of things in my house. Usually I’m the last out of bed. But rain pounds on the rooftop—our little dog was up all night because he’s terrified of storms—and so we all slept fitfully. As I look around my dark, solitary kitchen, I take it all in: The bowl of lemons on my kitchen table. The counter top covered with equipment—coffee maker, cappuccino machine, blender, toaster. A basket with every kind of vitamin known to man. Dried peppers from our garden. Envelopes with galleys of Still Writing waiting to go out in today’s mail. Behind me, my son’s tennis racket and a new Frisbee he just bought that apparently flies lower and faster and farther than any Frisbee ever before.
Also on my kitchen table, my well-worn book of Buddhist wisdom. It’s old now. Its pages are wavy and stained, its spine all but fallen off. Today’s quote is from Kalu Rinpoche: “From possession is born need. From non-attachment, satisfaction.”
Oh, but it is hard to be unattached. Unattached to the people I love most in the world, sleeping upstairs. Unattached to the health of my body as I sit here writing. Unattached to the little books in those envelopes. Unattached to the home around me where I have raised my son. I glance upward at two pictures hanging on the wall. They were taken for a magazine five minutes ago—but wait, my son is small. My husband’s hair is darker. I am younger. In one of them, Jacob sits on the kitchen counter and kisses me on the lips. It has been years since he’s sat on the kitchen counter. Years since he’s wanted to kiss his mother on the lips.
From non-attachment, satisfaction.
I’m always exhorting my writing students to do the work and then let go. To do the work, and understand that the rest—the rest is none of our business. I quote Martha Graham on making dance: “It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions.” Graham goes on to write to her friend Agnes de Mille that it is only her business to keep it uniquely hers. She understood that our lives are as individual as snowflakes. That we must, if we are artists—hell, if we are human beings—be focused only on the work, and letting go. The work, and letting go.
Ready or not, my heart continues to beat. Ready or not.