December 18, 2011

Spirituality In The Face Of Reality.

A #YOBC Interview with author Meryl Davids Landau

 After almost a year of yoga philosophy, meditation and spiritual exploration, the Twitter Yoga Book Club  (#YOBC) decided to end the year on a lighter note. The newest selection, Downward Dog, Upward Fog by Meryl Davids Landau is the fictional story of a woman who has it all, yet is missing the spiritual path she craves. The book may be light, but it’s still enlightening.

 In Downward Dog, Upward Fog, the main character Lorna seems to have it pretty good right from the beginning: successful boyfriend, good job, good friends. Yet, inside she’s unhappy. Do you find that many women are struggling with internal discontent? Why do you believe so many seemingly successful women are unhappy?

To me, a spiritual dimension is the key to lasting joy. At the start of Downward Dog, Upward Fog, Lorna knows nothing about spirituality, aside from the fact that her older sister, an interfaith minister, is into it. So even though she is on her way to “having it all” materially, she recognizes that something crucial is missing. At first, she doesn’t know what that is, but once she begins her yoga and meditation practice, she gets a glimpse and can’t wait to go further. I think most of us on a yoga/spiritual path remember that feeling.

Lorna is at first terrified of the silent yoga retreat. Have you been on a silent retreat? What benefits came out of it at the end for you?

Oh, this was probably the easiest chapter for me to write. I went to one silent weekend retreat many years ago and I struggled the same as Lorna. The idea of not at least occasionally sharing my thoughts with my husband was horrifying. By the end, I’d settled into it somewhat, but I was very happy when it was over. Now, though, I do like to eat in silence sometimes. Food really does come to life when you notice it more closely. Although I rarely make it through a whole meal.

Even through the difficult times, including a serious situation that happens to her closest family member, Lorna usually handles things calmly and always stays with her meditations. Is it really that easy? Would Lorna’s spiritual journey have gone as smoothly had she had children, a husband or a job she disliked? What advice do you have for women who don’t have as much free time or discretionary income for retreats as Lorna did?

There are many times in the novel that Lorna thinks she has this spiritual stuff down, and then something happens to show her that she doesn’t. But certainly, as a mother myself, I agree that children complicate the picture. Lorna develops a steady yoga practice, and she meditates in half-hour to one-hour sessions; when you have young kids—and a job, husband, laundry…–that can be difficult. As for Lorna stepping up her meditation and spiritual practices when things get tough, I do believe that’s the best time to do them.

I do want to emphasize, though, that Lorna does not pursue her connection to her higher self via retreats or sabbaticals. There are many memoirs, some of them really good, about a woman traveling for months to India or Bali or the Aztecs to grow spiritually, and I was clear from the start that Lorna wasn’t going anywhere (aside from that one weekend yoga retreat a few hours’ away, to jumpstart her practice).

The key question I want the book to address is how do you maintain your spiritual connection in your everyday life—at the office, in the grocery store, with your girlfriends, your workaholic boyfriend, your belittling mother, for heaven’s sake. That’s the prime issue I believe the novel addresses, and its one every spiritual person asks ourselves all the time.

There are sadly few fictional yoga books out there for intelligent, thinking women. What first inspired you to write a book of yoga fiction? Did you set out to write this type of book?

There are a handful of intelligent books that take place in a yoga studio or have a yoga teacher as a main character. But what I felt was especially lacking was women’s fiction that offers a much deeper spirituality. The idea for Downward Dog, Upward Fog came to me one morning when I was half-listening to an author being interviewed on a TV show, and she said she’d asked herself, “Where are the novels for women like me?” That question really spoke to me, since I felt there was so many great yoga and spiritual nonfiction books out there, but very little fiction that combines spiritual teachings with a lighthearted, fun plotline. So from the start my twin goals were to entertain and to uplift. One reviewer said my novel is perfect for “introspective, evolving women.” I love that description!

The most conversation on #YOBC has been about being aware of waking up on an inhale or exhale. What a great idea to begin your day with awareness. What has that awareness taught you?

Yes, I was excited to see the women on #YOBC take to that practice, since it’s one I adore—although I confess I’d gotten away from it until you all reminded me to get back to it. I learned it years ago at a yoga workshop, even though in my novel I have Lorna discovering it in a book. I think it’s so important to have a morning spiritual practice, whether it’s meditating or appreciating.  But the notion of catching that first breath is to me the most powerful by far—and the most challenging—because you’re aiming to bring in that mindfulness the moment you awake. On mornings when I do catch that breath (hint: it helps to go to sleep mindfully and to set the intention to wake up that way), everything that follows, from brushing my teeth to eating breakfast, is also more mindful—and magical.

#YOBC readers have also really embraced the Surya Namaskar visualization that Lorna used and that you wrote about previously for Elephant Journal. In fact, many have admitted to not only adding it to their own practice but to teaching it to their classes as well!

That is something that’s also important in my own practice, because I used to dread this vinyasa. It’s amazing what a little shift in mindset can do for my yoga practice—and my life.

You’ve been a well established author for quite some time. When did you begin a yoga practice? Do you find that doing yoga in any way helps you be a better writer? 

I started practicing yoga about 25 years ago, when I saw a woman almost literally float through my gym and learned that she was the yoga teacher. When she later told me she got her lightness from studying at the Integral Yoga Institute in New York, I started studying there, too.

I’ve been writing for magazines almost as long as I’ve done yoga, although fiction came much later. Yoga definitely helps with my writing, in terms of connecting me to that higher essence where, I believe, all good prose comes from. And, of course, my knowledge of yoga and other spiritual paths gave me the foundation for Downward Dog, Upward Fog. But even more important, yoga offers a foundation for my life. Just like it becomes to my main character, Lorna, yoga is something I aspire to bring to every moment in my life.

Any plans for a book two of Lorna’s journey?

Yes, I have started writing the sequel, and I think readers will like where it goes. Because of the nature of contemporary women’s fiction, not to mention my desire to inspire readers, the book ends on a positive note. But those of us on a spiritual path know that life is always a process of ups and downs. So book two starts with Lorna facing a new set of challenges, and finding that she needs to reach down even deeper for the next level of spiritual growth. Like the first book, though, there will also be plenty of fun and humor.

Thank you for sharing your writing and thoughts here on Elephant Journal as well as with the #YOBC.

For me, the most gratifying thing about writing this novel is hearing from readers that it inspired, or re-inspired, their personal spiritual practice. After reading my book, several recently took their first yoga class, or bought a book by one of the spiritual authors Lorna discovers, or are meditating again after years away. On the surface, this is a book about Lorna, but I always intended for the reader to feel that this is really a book about you.


Meryl Davids Landau is the author of Downward Dog, Upward Fog  and writes for national magazines such as O: the Oprah Magazine, Whole Living and Huffington Post. More information on her novel and other writings can be found on her home page.

Join the Twitter Yoga Book Club at #YOBC

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