Hodge Podge of Beliefs

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010 12

I recently finished reading Dani Shapiro’s Devotion, her memoir and reflections on spirituality. A number of people I know whose tastes in books I highly respect had suggested I read Devotion. Being on my own spiritual and creative journey, I was hopeful I would enjoy the book, but I was wanting it to also teach me something, show me different paths, help me see life in a new way. Dani’s words lived up to these high expectations, resonating with many of my own experiences and feelings, and reflecting back to me lessons I’ve learned but need to be reminded of.

Dani is Jewish and hails from an Orthodox family, but she has strayed far from the strict edicts of her faith. She practices yoga and meditation, living some of the Buddha’s teachings. She learns from Sylvia Boorstein and Jon Kabat-Zinn, visiting Kripalu for silent retreats. And yet, she is also pulled back to traditions of Judaism, markers of her upbringing, rituals that still resonate deep within her. While not believing any one religious path in whole, Dani has embraced the parts that help her to be grounded, connected, rooted. As someone who was raised in an Irish Catholic family, who has moved far away from this tradition while seeking other paths that speak to me, I appreciated the way Dani finds a spirituality that fits for her. I found refuge in seeing someone else who has crafted a hodge podge of beliefs. I also was jolted to pay attention as the coincidences in experiences were borne on the page–one of my previous therapists had given me a copy of a Sylvia Boorstein’s book, and my first yoga teachers were trained and lived for years at Kripalu.

One of the lessons from Devotion that I want to carry with me comes from something a meditation teacher shares with a class at Kripalu. She says, “It’s painful and unskillfull to compare, no matter what conclusion we draw. Comparing creates agitation in the mind.” As I’ve written before, I struggle with comparison. It crops up in almost every area of my life, a constant evaluating of self in contrast to any and everyone around me. And it’s true, so very true, that no matter if the evaluation du jour is “better” or “worse,” it is painful. It is toxic. Comparison kills creativity. Comparison cuts you off from being your true self. I want to hold this message close, allowing it whisper in my ear and drown out the impostor demons.

In hanging a mezuzah on the frame of her family’s front door, Dani writes that although she doesn’t wholly believe the mezuzah will protect her family from all harm, it is “another daily reminder–right there on the doorpost of our home–to stop for a moment. To take a breath. To pay attention and listen well.” I love that. It made me think of my trip to New Mexico last April when I purchased an eagle fetish, a Native symbol that serves as a reminder of the connection with the divine, a soaring spirit that transcends personal problems. The woman from whom I bought this beautiful fetish, hand-carved from a single shell, told me that the eagle helps us “remember what matters.” Little did I know then that I’d be starting this blog three months later as another way to focus on what matters.

I don’t believe this eagle will completely shield me from getting wrapped up in all the little, mundane stressors and pressures of my everyday life. But it is another daily reminder. It beckons me to take a breath. To pay attention and listen well.

12 Responses

  1. Tom says:


    One of my absolute pet hates is people who call themselves “spiritual” and who dip into different religions like pick and mix. They’re essentially intelligent enough to understand that all religions are bullshit and therefore cannot be taken lock, stock, yet they’re still cowards enough to want to grip onto something so they don’t have to face up to their own mortality and insignificance.


    • Meghan says:

      Tom–thank you for your comment, and I appreciate that many people disagree with the hodge podge approach to religion or spirituality. I fully respect that you and I (and many others) view this issue very differently. However, I don’t believe that I am a coward, nor see others as cowards, for living life and approaching a belief in something greater or bigger than myself in a way that fits for me. I’m also very well aware of my own mortality–death anxiety has loomed large in my life during the past few years–as well as the ways in which I may be significant AND insignificant in this world.

      • Tom says:

        I absolutely wasn’t calling you a coward, and apologies that it seemed that way.

        I was just saying that some people who take the pick and mix approach – I see it a lot in interviews with musicians for some reason – do so in a very unthinking way. They’ll say things like “I want to believe in god or a higher being” but clearly don’t think it through any more than that.

        The reason it pisses me off is that 95% of the wrong things done in the name of religion are perpetrated by those who are casually and/or ignorantly religious.

        Of course you – or anyone else – can believe any damn thing you like. And of course, if it’s different to what I believe, I’ll think you’re wrong! And I think it’s important to express that, because I personally believe religion is born of ignorance, and I also personally believe that ignorance should be defeated.

        Anyway, sorry for the douchey comment.

  2. Tiffany Hogan says:

    Meghan – thank you for your words today.

  3. Gretta says:

    Perhaps it is more appropriate to look at a person who investigates what brings others joy and peace and see how you can adopt it into your life to bring you more joy and peace in your life and recognize that person as a scholar and traveler. To say humbug to any form of spirituality is perhaps blocking oneself off from a path that could bring welcomed surprises. At times, people experience pain and tribulations, if a belief in higher being or the comfort of ritual celebrated by a community sharing a common belief brings that person peace and strength, why do some feel it their mission in life to ridicule and pass judgement? Why can we not support others in their journey? If its not hurting you and they are not pushing their spiritual beliefs upon you what is the problem? We elect to read this blog; we can elect to not carry an idea or thesis from the blog with us if it doesn’t hit home to us. I applaud Meghan for her courage in putting herself out here and bearing some intimate and challenging circumstances. I look forward to reading her insights and thoughts, although we may not always agree. Bravo!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    The eagle! I was in the store a few days ago and was eyeing their turtle collection ;)0

  5. Lindsey says:

    As you know, Devotion means a lot to me as well. I loved reading your reflections on Dani’s beautiful story. xo

  6. Celina Wyss says:

    It think it is a wonderful thing to have a reminder. I honestly had not heard of a fetish before, very interesting to learn about, thanks for sharing the link. And thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  7. mindy says:

    i love this hodge podge approach as anything as personal as spirituality should be taken just as that… personally. how it best resonates and fits into your life is only for you to say. thank you for this insightful reminder! i have a little ganesh i just recently bought (the remover of obstacles), and though i know it won’t rid me of all things in my way it is a sweet little reminder that the biggest thing in my way is often my own thoughts 😉

  8. MC says:

    Hey girl! Rockin post!
    A few months ago I arrived at the affirmation that my spiritual journey and preference need NOT look like anyone else’s. We are different. SUPER DIFFERENT. For me, that is the beauty of being alive. Like you said, not comparing oneself to anyone or anything else. I have been on a journey over the past 10 years of dipping my toes into MANY different religions and dogmas. And what I have arrived at now, where I find contentment AND growth, is an enormous amalgamation of it all. I LOVE IT. I have my down days and my up days, I have tools to work with it all. I am so thankful that God has taken me on this journey.
    Thank YOU for sharing this post. I can’t wait to get my hands on Devotion.
    Namaste Lovely Girl,

  9. Meghan says:

    Tom–Thanks for responding to my reply to your original post. Apology accepted. And with your second comment today, I can *totally* see where you are coming from. Ironically, I think we don’t stand so far apart on some of these issues. Your statement about what really makes you pissed is “that 95% of the wrong things done in the name of religion are perpetrated by those who are casually and/or ignorantly religious” completely resonates with me. I am infuriated by people who use religious texts, inappropriately and completely out of context, as a way to defend their violent behavior and oppressive attitudes toward certain groups. In my opinion, that type of hodge podge is ignorant, hateful, and mean-spirited.

    I value discourse on these topics and am glad that you expressed your disagreement with how I see some of the spiritual journey. And I’m grateful that you clarified your points so that we can understand where you’re coming from a bit better.

  10. love all your words here and will look into the book for myself ~ thank you! xo

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