Dani Shapiro
April 18, 2008


“When the student is ready the teacher will appear” has always seemed, to me, to be one of those tired phrases, repeated in the absence of originality or imagination. It could be put in the same category as “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” (puh-leez!). But lately I’ve been thinking of the people who have appeared in my life at precisely the moment I’ve been ready for them. Right around the time that I started thinking about my new book, Devotion, I was seated next to Stephen Cope, author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self, at an author event. Stephen is a scholar, a yogi, a great writer, a former psychotherapist, and a classically trained pianist. (Crazy but true.) He’s also the scholar-in-residence at Kripalu, a yoga and meditation retreat in the Berkshires. I had long contemplated visiting Kripalu, but couldn’t quite bring myself to go. And there he was. Stephen Cope. At a charity library event in Litchfield County. The student was ready and her teacher appeared. Coincidence? Destiny? Had it simply happened because I was ready? Or perhaps–if I hadn’t been ready to meet him, I would have turned the other way and not noticed him at all?

I went to Kripalu to study with Stephen, who was teaching a workshop with Sylvia Boorstein. Even though Sylvia is famous in the world of contemporary Buddhism, I wasn’t familiar with her. Again, since starting DEVOTION, I have been thinking deeply about how Judaism, my yoga practice, and a developing affinity for Buddhism can co-exist without turning into a spiritual supermarket mumbo-jumbo. As I browsed in the Kripalu bookshop waiting for the first session with Sylvia and Stephen, I came across one of Sylvia’s books, That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist. The subtitle is: On Being a Faithful Jew and a Passionate Buddhist.

When the student is ready…

And lastly, my dear friend Abby invited me to join a small Torah study group who meets each month at her apartment in New York. Abby’s friend, Rabbi Burton Visotsky, one of the great scholarly minds in modern Judaism, leads the group. After a childhood spent in yeshiva learning religious rules and laws without context, being exposed to a thoroughly relevant and open-minded discussion of the Torah is nothing short of a revelation.

I guess this student has been getting ready. It makes me wonder about all the moments in my life when I have been surrounded by teachers, and it has been me, blind, unable to understand the value of what’s being offered. Because one thing this process of writing DEVOTION is teaching me is that teachers are always there, if we know where to look.