Personal Writing

Thoughts on The How by Yrsa Daley-Ward

I picked up Yrsa Daley-Ward’s book The How from the library last weekend and just finished it this morning. Wow. I didn’t know Ms Daley-Ward before this book, but I want to know so much more about her now that I’ve finished it. Reading her, feeling like I was getting to know her, made me feel like the few times I have been in the ocean. Not to the ocean, or near, by or on it, but really inside it.

Five years ago, Dr Marry and I went to Hawaii and spent an afternoon snorkeling. We walked out into waves coming at us, crashing against our bodies and threatening us with their power. Then we dove under, and all that commotion was suddenly absent. Our fight to stay upright unnecessary because we were with the water as opposed to against it. The sounds muted, but the clarity of our sight intensified. I moved through the dreamy beauty that is the warm, tropical habitat of the ocean of Hawaii. I swam around, listening to my own rhythmic breathing, so loud in my ears.

I became overwhelmed with the unnaturalness of it all: I’m not meant to breathe underwater, to live like the schools of fish I saw darting here and there. I started to have a mild panic attack because I could no longer tell what my physical form was or where I belonged. I felt complete relief to break the surface and experience my natural habitat again, to feel the wind on my face, hear the birds and waves, breathe entirely on my own, unafraid of accidentally swallowing salty water.

That’s how I felt about this book.

There were moments that were utterly familiar, chapters that were challenging to traverse, dreamy and surreal passages that felt other-worldly and lines that reminded me that I was not in a place I understood or belonged. I simultaneously recognized and was bewildered by much of it. She writes as if she is inside my brain, has lived my life and is asking the questions I am asking, but she’s doing it in such a much more intangibly, ephemerally beautiful way:

As we grow, we are told that the things we want are impossible. We start to believe that what we dream of does not exist. “Who do you think you are?” our circumstances scream, as they whip us into shape (xxiv).

Your existence alone is a one-in-a-million result of excellent work, negotiation, and perfect timing. Showing up is work, and offers more inspiration and importance to those around you than you will ever understand. Know this, even if no one ever tells you (49).

You surely become an expert on the thing that you focus on, be it misery or mathematics….It is a question of expectation and practice. The truth is this: Life happens in the places where we rest our attention, in the actions that we repeat…Experiences that we are repeating are continually being written deeper and deeper inside us, always being added to the precious code that makes us up. We expect what we have experienced, and we come to experience what we expect (127-28).

She is lyrical and wises. Precious and real. Broken and alive.

Do yourself a favor and read this book. I could go on and on, but I’ll just leave you with this final thought:

When you learn something wonderful about yourself and wonder what else you’ve been hiding, you learn that

  1. you are not done


2. you are never done (101).

Dayna Del Val is on a mission to help others (re)discover the spark they were born with through her blog and newsletter, her professional talks and the (re)Discover Your Spark retreats she leads. Dayna works with people to help them not just identify and articulate their dreams but to develop a framework to get going on the pursuit of those dreams—today, in the next few months and for the years ahead. She's at the intersection of remarkable and so, so ordinary, but she knows that pretty much everyone else is, too. She's excited to be sharing this extraordinary journey with you.

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