Interview: Maranda Pleasant

Dani Shapiro’s most recent books include the bestselling memoirs Devotion and Slow Motion, and the novels Black & White and Family History. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, O, Vogue, Elle, and many others. She teaches retreats and workshops worldwide.

Maranda Pleasant: What makes you come alive?

Dani Shapiro: I never feel so alive as when I’m writing and the work is going well. When I near the end of a book, it feels as if the entire universe meets me more than halfway and supports me. The whole world seems to shimmer when I find the words. My mind quiets. It’s a profound, meditative peace.
MP: What makes you feel vulnerable?

DS: Motherhood. My son is now fourteen, and from the moment he was born, I understood that forevermore my heart would be walking around outside my body. Part of my spiritual work is learning to live with the knowledge that we can’t protect our loved ones from pain and heartache. We can’t protect ourselves from pain and heartache. In fact, to love—fully, madly, deeply—is the ensure heartache some day. But that is also the great beauty and pathos of being human.

MP: If you could say something to everyone on the planet, what would it be?

DS: Open your hearts. Deep inside ourselves, we are all one and the same.

MP: How do you handle emotional pain?

DS: I’ve certainly faced some raw, real pain in my life.  I lost my father to a car accident when I was young.  My mother died ten years ago. My son was very sick as an infant. Eventually, I have attempted to transform this pain into art, to make meaning out of it. Those memories that are engraved within me become teaching tools, ways of connecting with others, of creating an empathic bridge, of reaching out a hand and saying,  I’ve been there, too.

MP: How do you keep your center in the middle of chaos? Do you have a daily routine?

DS: I moved from New York City to the rural countryside of Connecticut ten years ago, and was no longer able to find a great yoga class on every corner. That forced me to create my own yoga practice—something I had never been able to do before. At some point each day (well, most days) I unroll my mat and practice for an hour.  I sit in meditation for a while. This can be five minutes or twenty minutes, but the daily practice—simply showing up for it—is centering.

MP: What’s been one of you biggest lessons so far in your life?

DS: Our teachers are everywhere.  Our teachers are right in front of us, and take so many forms. All we need to do is to open our eyes, to be open to and aware of the possibilities. Otherwise, we walk sightless among miracles.

MP: What truth do you know for sure?

DS: Everything changes. The more I try to hold on to the moment, the more it slips through my fingers. I don’t want to lean back into the past, or forward into the future. I don’t want to wish the present moment away. The truth is in the present moment. The great paradox is that when I’m really able to do that, time slows down and opens up. Time feels suddenly and inexplicably without end.

MP: Tell us about about your latest project.

DS: My newest book, Still Writing: The Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, will be published on October 1, 2013. It’s partly a memoir and partly my love letter to all of us attempting to live creatively.

MP: You will soon be appearing on Super Soul Sunday. What is it like to work with Oprah? Why are shows like Super Soul Sunday so important?

DS: Oh my God, my conversation with Oprah is one of the highlights of my life. She is such an extraordinary presence, and one of the greatest interviewers who has ever lived. I think the key is that she’s genuinely curious. She wants to have a real conversation. In preparing to go on Super Soul Sunday, all I tried to do was get very clear and centered, and be completely present for the experience. Super Soul Sunday delves into matters that so many of us are so hungry to think about, to talk about. What’s more important that spiritual life? It seems to me it’s the bedrock of everything essential about being human. From spiritual connection springs kindness, connection, social activism, and love. What else is there?



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