On Embracing it All

I’m writing this from a cottage in Provincetown, at a place where  I have spent a week teaching each summer for the past six years.  My husband is at a cafe down the road having breakfast with our son.  It’s early, quiet.  In half an hour I will walk across the courtyard to my workshop where we will spend several hours talking about matters such as loss, grief, sorrow, family, love, and all the attendant joys and terrors.  We’ll discuss what it means to attempt to shape these inchoate, chaotic feelings, these random events, into stories that have form, order, and logic.  Essay: to attempt.  It never fails to move me when I watch people trying to make sense of their lives, sense of this world.  They don’t have to.  They all have busy lives, filled with responsibilities.  They could go on auto-pilot and move through their days, weeks, months, years, without stopping, without asking what it all means.  They could do that — we could all do that — without even registering the cost of psychic inaction.

When my mother was dying, at the age of eighty, she once turned to me, her face clouded with puzzlement, and said: but I was just getting my life together.  That statement terrified me, and subsequently instructed me.  I didn’t want to feel, on my deathbed, that I had just been getting my life together.  A few years later, Sylvia Boorstein shared a list of the eleven benefits of practicing metta meditation, and the one that stood out most for me was: to die unconfused.

These are challenging times for many of us.  The state of politics, of poverty, of inequality, of racism, homophobia, hunger, small-mindedness combined with the sheer speed of life makes it all too attractive to put our heads down and barrel through life, fueled by fear and our natural instincts for self-preservation.  But my daily life as a writer and a teacher reminds me that there is another way.  Look, I tell my students.  Stop.  Witness.  The beauty and terror — Rilke‘s phrase — is all around us.  If we avoid the latter, we will also miss the former.  Embrace it all, I want to say.  And perhaps, some day, you will be able to whisper to yourself: I have lived. 

  • lemead

    Oh yes. Amen. I think of Rilke’s interest twined beauty and terror every single day. xoxo

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, LIndsey! x

  • Kelly Simmons

    Oh I love this. But I also love that your mother was still trying. 🙂

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Kelly!

      • Robin Rosner

        I think to “still be trying” is the key to aging with grace…we should never be done trying, learning, caring, loving…it’s what keeps us essential and engaged. We all have something we can do and give.

        • Connie Walker Assadi

          At 67, I also feel that I am just now getting my life together. But I also may have made that statement at 45 or 56. We live. We learn. We grow. We get our lives together, at any point in time, the best we can with as much grace as we can muster. “Getting it together” is not so much a linear process as it is an organic ever deepening awareness of being.

  • The hardest work in these times: stopping, witnessing. So much easier (and safer, I suppose) to fly over one’s life like a bird, at a distance and a disconnect. To experience terror and beauty, to witness them, is to live. No neat, tidy endings. Life is ambiguous. You (and Rilke) are right: to embrace it all is to live, fully and completely. Which means a plaiting together of joy and pain, terror and beauty. Thank you for this–a stunning post, as always. x

  • melissaburchcchrshomna

    Great reminder! Thank you!

    • Danishapiro

      You’re welcome! My pleasure.

  • Sy Clops

    Very well said and really important to remember.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Sy!

  • Beth jaffe

    Stuck in heavy traffic on Rt.27 out in East Hampton today, as my husband complained, I reminded him how beautiful the scenery was and that this was his chance to have quiet time and see the farms. Look, witness, wonderful traffic.

    • Danishapiro

      I have thought that many times in the Hamptons, Beth. Thanks.

  • retired and happy

    This was just what I needed to see yesterday!

    • Danishapiro

      I’m so glad!

  • Laurie J Lockhart

    Appreciate. Elevate your thoughts. Love every moment especially those transitional, life forging seconds.
    Bless mom’s heart. I’ve no doubt her spirit is proud of you.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Laurie:)

  • Lisa smith

    Your sister was a very generous and selfless woman, involved in anything that helped women and the underprivileged!! That special kind of person is rare! I believe she did the best she could to embrace it all.

    • Danishapiro

      I have no idea who or what you’re talking about, Lisa! Are you sure you have the right person? I don’t have a sister who has passed away.

  • Wow. Thank you. I feel and believe this and it’s so hard to walk the medial path. Connecting with kindred spirits, even for just a moment, gives me courage and hope to stay the course.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Dorothy!

  • Kitty

    Awesome perspective. If everything went perfectly all the time, how could we know the joys of happiness, because that would be the norm, nothing special. Thanks for this lovely entry.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Kitty!

  • jansand

    Frankly, at 90, I wonder what it means to get one’s life together. I do what I can to get by, remain relatively healthy, screw around with what I know (which isn’t a hell of a lot) and look at the world which is rolling towards all sorts of unnecessary disasters and some that might be tempered somewhat if the people who are effective gave a damn about working it out. I am past the age of commercial viability. Sure I delight in sunsets and a bit of exercise and a decent meal once in a while and nature, with all its cruel miseries can also be worth appreciation. The computer is a great doorway to all sorts of fascinating material but I am still in the position of leaping into oblivion and wondering what the hell all that was about.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks so much for this! I love that you are asking these questions and finding these doorways at 90!!

      • jansand


        Impatiently the clock’s baton

        Taps the music to start up.

        The orchestra is tuning.

        I’ve heard a growling stegodon,

        The fluting zip of positron,

        The whine of humming magnetron,

        A loon’s tragic crooning.

        The melody’s been fugitive,

        The theme wholly evasive.

        The direction’s inconclusive.

        Anticipations are abrasive..

        The composer is a mystery,

        With a foggy, misty history

        Evoking mass confusion

        As to the true conclusion.

        The orchestra should soon commence.

        The piece, of course, will be immense.

        And, hopefully, it will make sense,

        For up to now the tune-up has been looney.

        The clash of motivations

        With experimentations

        Is amorphous, a shapeless hapless discord, a din.

        The band is ready, waiting,

        The baton anticipating.

        The time has come for the music to begin.

  • Melissa

    Sometimes I’m somewhat envious of the people who seem to not think, to not even need to think. You have made me less so. Thank you 🙂

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks for this, Melissa:)

  • Alina Folden Parcels

    Love! I think it is a never ending process of trying and becoming and agree we must take it all in, the good and the bad to appreciate life to the fullest!

    • Danishapiro


  • Denna Meshgi

    I stumbled across this piece and it really resonated with the direction I want to move towards. In fact, I just wrote a promise to myself to embrace the “essay” if you will quite literally in writing on a shared blog: https://guchijavahaus.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/exhale-on-imperfections/ I would really welcome feedback.

  • Great essay! You are a talented writer and you connected with me. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Em

    Dani, thank you for posting. I am always asked by my family and friends, “what are you chasing” “what is it you are looking for” because I never seem to be settled or content. I am still only 25, and don’t think I know what I am looking for. I always feel like I am missing something big or was born in the wrong place. I am currently trying to emigrate to Canada from England so my family and friends think its just another fad. I hope not. (our wordpress is emandwillowtakecanada.wordpress.com

    I am always searching for the next best thing and I do not know why. Maybe I need to take a breath and stop, look, and realise that I am, and will live.

    Em x

  • Grace analis

    I want to donate my kidney , if you guys can help the recipient swatch for me ? I needed money for my family ,,,

  • Hannah K

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve also heard it said that life is a tragedy and a triumph if you live it to the full. I wear two rings, one on my right hand and one on my left. One has thorns, the other a Rose. Life is joy and suffering together.

  • Jacqueline Samples

    Great pen!!! I have a hope in Him and that I am certain of. All that said, your wording caused me to think for seconds…what if I didn’t have Him as the author and finisher of my faith. Thank you for sharing blessings to you.

  • Cheryl Mendoza

    I sometimes wonder if time works against this process too. It always seems to take so much time processing what I am thinking and seeing around me. All the while life goes on at the same speed it always does….and we are all just trying to keep up. Thanks for the encouragement….it may take time, but it is time I think is well worth it.

  • Thanks for sharing this post Dani! Yes, life – with all its issues, concerns and relationships, can be very overwhelming. But we can only have comfort if we embrace everything as wisely ordained by God (Romans 8:28 “All things work together for the GOOD of those who love God and belong to Him.”)

  • Shaishav Siddharth Berry

    Its really a creative effort to make life simple in these ever so demanding times, and the perspective mentioned by you ,is perhaps what comes with a versatile experience of different colors of life, and you summed it all so well, no confusion, we should just focus to live as we believe to be right

  • Amber MV

    This reminds me how Joanna Macy talks about the “world as lover, world as self”. Sometimes I am afraid I will be alone in the world. But I must know I will be *with* the world, so never isolated from that great Love.

  • Heather Babcock

    What a beautiful post, and from one of my favorite places, Provincetown. In this world of hurry go paces and fear dripping moments of not acknowledging our truths no matter how much it rips us apart, to “Stop. Look. Witness.” is as necessary to our existence as breathing. I think so many of us bury our truths to such depths that we forget who we are, how we got here and where we’d like to be. It’s a place we should allow ourselves to honor/feel from/make our living moments from. The tattered/torn pieces of our life quilts are just as important as the glittering/pretty pieces. They’ve built the human we’ve become and to not remember how to live is a tragedy to the journey you’ve embarked on to where you are now. When we live from our truths we are honoring our being. When honor our being we remember how to live. When we remember how to live then the whispers “I have lived” will come to us the way the stars greet the night, with a million points of light ready to lead you forward.

  • Myles

    This reminds me of the Taoist yin and yang. There can’t be good without bad, joy without sadness. Thanks for sharing.

  • “Truth is within you, do not search for it elsewhere.”

  • The Self Sense

    Dani, I fully agree. It is so important to embrace every aspect of our life. The good, the bad, the impressive and the not so impressive. Lessons will never cease to come our way – that’s life – an institute of perpetual learning, and until we learn to habitually introspect and meditate and embrace every moment and unfolding event, we will be caught off guard when its time to go…

  • Victoria

    I have this conversation with my roommate all the time. Knowing that people go on “autopilot” is a scary concept to me. All the distractions in life and people forget that they are living. Beautiful post and enlightening to read people’s perspectives and thoughts about life, thank you!

  • ihatemysalary

    Lived is a long forgotten phenomenon…in the age we survive in it is more like a mini war within us… I wish we hear to our heart before it is labeled as failure….

  • Brittany Stepniak

    Life, in all its awfulness and awesomeness, is surely meant to be felt. It’d be impossible to celebrate the joyish occasions so truly gleefully if we didn’t also grieve grave losses so grotesquely. Taking a little effort to engage just a bit more in everything can make all the difference.

  • anita

    amen. this is beautiful. lovely. thank you. i will face the terror. and the beauty. today. sometimes the terror is as “simple” as being bored or angry or confused. often this is it, for me. namaste.