Worlds in Worlds in Worlds

In addition to doing my part to rescue donkeys, I am also a yoga instructor. In fact, several years ago, I quit my cush job in oil and gas to chase a dream of teaching yoga full-time. So far, it’s worked out, although I often wonder if the corporate Grim-Reaper will come knocking one day to call me back to the cubicle.

I love teaching yoga—I love it because there are few greater social joys to me than providing a space in which class attendees can unplug and de-stress. I’ve talked at length about how donkeys have served as a major component to my ever increasing awareness (and quest) to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life but yoga, too, has aided in that journey. People tell me often that they’re “not good at yoga” or they’re “not flexible enough to do yoga” and to that I always ask, “What is being good at yoga?” I rarely get an answer, but a half-laugh with a tiny light bulb that I could swear appears over their head.

The fact is, there is no such thing as being good at yoga, there is only continual practice of trying to be better in the way you treat yourself and others with a bonus of strength and flexibility gaining along the way. It’s a healing process of body, mind, and soul. It’s focusing on your breath because think about it: you can’t breathe two minutes ago and you can’t breathe two minutes from now—you can breathe in this moment. Focusing on your breath and making it slower and deeper pulls you to the present and away from phone notifications, that argument you had last week, and the worry over that meeting you have next week. It allows you to exist right now.

There’s no doubt that we live in a frantic world—one that moves faster and with more fury than I think any of us are fully equipped to handle and I think it’s become really easy to withdraw behind walls in our minds in order to cope and behind those walls, no matter how many friends you have, you’re alone there.

Here’s the thing—you’re NOT alone. Everyone you’ve met and will meet has experienced pain. We’ve all had our hearts broken, we’ve all made mistakes, and we all have something in which we’re self-conscious. Nobody has all the answers and isn’t that grand? That means we still live in a world with mysteries and magic. We can still wonder if there are beings in the shadows that watch us or even guide us when we’re lost. We can still imagine that there are brilliant energies that surround us on a light spectrum that our eyes can’t see that cause us to gravitate towards one another resulting in serendipitous meetings that can’t quite be explained. We can wonder what peers down at us from the billions of stars and galaxies that blanket our night skies—sometimes so brightly that you swear you could just reach out and grab a few to place in your pocket. We can look into the eyes of animals and see whole worlds within their pupils and imagine that they see things about us that we will never know and isn’t that badass?

Our oneness as a society comes from our communal exploration of the worlds around us and within ourselves. Try this: place your hands over your heart and close your eyes. Search for your heart beat. With every inhale, your chest will rise and press into your hands and with every exhale, it will fall. I’m doing it, too, and in that, we are connected—your heartbeat and breath and mine. We all breathe the same way and we all breathe the same air. We all have hearts that are stronger than we know that endure so much so slow down and listen to it for a while.

I teach yoga because I need yoga, too. I need blocks of time where my focus is the moment. I need to remind myself not to compare, to break down walls, and to love from my insides out. I hope you’ll try it, too. At the very least, try to breathe a little more deeply today when you think about it. Look deeply into someone’s eyes—even if they’re your own in a mirror and see the way the light dances off the colors like the sun reflecting off the ocean—a million diamonds. As Neil Gaiman once said, “People carry worlds within them,” and never has that been a more profound realization than now because we live in a world with so much division and we don’t even quite understand our own selves. How can we expect peace if there is no peace within?

…And if you’ve never gone to a yoga class because you don’t think you’ll be good at it, maybe give it a shot. You might be surprised.

Namaste. Or rather, NamasBRAY.



Dark Storm Donkeys

It was a dark and stormy night—the kind old, bearded sailors would recall while sipping on a potent drink from a silver mug, staring off into the distance, remembering the night their ship capsized on the high seas and in the flashes of crackling lightning, battled mountain-sized squids with their bare hands. They barely made it. And they’ve not sailed since.

So of course I was out in the shelter with the donkeys.

The three of them, Bunny, Tee and Tink, have all become lovely friends. I’d had separate stalls for them in which to hunker down, but they prefer to be together (and I prefer it, too). I sat in the soft hay rubbing Tink’s enlarged ankle (this is not abnormal for him…it’s permanently swollen due to his injury) but still, I imagine it’s often sore, so I run my fingers around it, pressing it gently. Tee stood on my other side and leaned his weight into me while Bunny was near the door watching the storm.

The lightning was getting closer—it flashed like a strobe light and the thunder roared and crackled like a million, great trees snapping and falling at once. The donkeys flinched every time. I’d initially come out to the shelter to take Tink’s boot off of his foot—I keep it on most days and let his hoof air out at night when he’s not as active, but when I saw their frightened, searching eyes, I couldn’t leave them alone in the storm.

I watched the sheets of rain tumble down beyond Bunny and outside of the door with fury—the mud splashed and the wind whipped the sides of the shelter with howling strength. I felt like I was in a cave: like suddenly I was way, way back in the olden times. Back in the times when we’d seek shelter in caves from night-roaming predators and I found myself feeling very protective of my four-legged companions.

Lightning struck very close just then with a painful boom and Bunny backed away from the door with a wide-eyed grunt. I stood saying, “It’s okay, girl,” and hugged her large head into my chest and rubbed the insides of her furry ears when I noticed that I was actually a bit nervous myself—of what, I’m not sure. I felt oddly vulnerable, as if beyond the doors of the shelter, danger awaited me. I felt like prey.

Through the heavy rainfall, I heard King Ranch calling to me.

“Jess?” he yelled from the house. “Jess, you coming in?”

I leaned outside of the shelter to respond but as I did, lightning struck again, this time very close. It exploded with a flash and I jumped back into the shelter.

King Ranch yelled again, “Jess!”

I gave each donkey a kiss on the nose and said to them, “Stay in here. You’ll be safe.” Then I pulled the hood of my jacket over my head and ran out into the storm.

“I’m coming!” I yelled back at King Ranch who was about 100 yards away on our covered patio. Lightning struck and thunder crashed again and I squealed.

The mud splashed beneath me and the rain pelted my face. I felt as if I was being chased by something angry and hungry while my heart thudded heavily in my chest. I reached the gate with a stumble and with shaky and slippery hands, fumbled with the lock and the latch. Lightning struck again and I heard King Ranch yell something, although I’m not sure what. I was breathing heavily and blinking the rain and the fear away from my eyes when I finally pushed the gate open.

I closed it and locked it behind me and then ran to King Ranch, jumping into his open, dry arms and he held me close beneath the awning of our back patio—the rain falling all around.

I panted and shivered as he held me when he said, “It’s okay.” As we walked inside, I looked over my shoulder to see all three donkeys dry and safe in their shelter. They stood in a row, Bunny, Tee and Tink.

Of course, after I changed out of my wet clothes and relaxed in the dryness of my house, the storm subsided into a floating, directionless drizzle. I stood by the window sipping a potent drink out of a mason jar and watched the donkeys come out of their shelter and begin to graze on the grass just outside of it. They were fine. We were all fine. I smiled and sipped my drink.

I think next time we have weather like this, I’ll just bring the donkeys inside our house. Don’t tell King Ranch though. That’ll be our little secret. *grins*


Follow the Cardinal

It’s colder than Narnia out there, y’all.

I’m looking out the back window at the small patches of snow hiding in the shadows of my backyard when down from the bony trees, a bright, red cardinal descends. He lands in the damp leaves and hops about, cocking his head side to side. He bounces with authority as if he knows precisely where he’s going on this cold day. I scramble to find my camera but manage only to snap a few, blurry photos of a red smudge. I wonder if he’s leading me to something like the robin leading Mary to her Secret Garden? I decide to bundle myself and go out to follow the bird.

Last week, I started re-reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett for the first time since I was in middle school. I remember, as a pre-teen, enjoying the book, although my memory did not retain many of the small, magical details and the deeply, profound metaphors for the essence of life that this time around, are grabbing at my soul. Taking risks, for example…making somethings out of nothings…the recognition of the good in the world no matter what and so much more. Perhaps it’s because life has a different meaning as an adult then it did when I was in middle school, but this time ‘round, I simply cannot keep from crying as I read it. In a peculiar way, I almost feel as if I have more wonder and curiosity about the world now than I did when I was a young girl.

This is on the coattails of something that happened while I was in Houston visiting my family for the holidays that’s been causing an itch in my head like poison ivy on the brain and this happening, coincidentally enough, also involved middle-school me.

My father found an old box of family videos and managed to get his hands on a working VCR so that all of us (as a family who is rarely together these days) could watch a few of them. Of the overflowing box, we picked at random and after rewinding the tape, we found ourselves watching a video of my family at some park when I was around the age of 11 or 12. It was spring and the bluebonnets were blooming which, as is tradition in many Texas households, sent our family on a roadtrip to the Texas hill country to take pictures in the rolling, blue flowers.

I’d not seen this video since it was filmed and to see myself on the poorly tracked tape literally took my breath away. I was taken aback because as most girls/women living in the times we do now, I was so heavily critical of my looks and abilities (and if you’ve kept up with my blogs, you know that I deal with a good amount of residual confidence issues as an adult). To my now, grown eyes, I was astonished with what a pretty, pretty girl I was back then with my long, wavy brown hair and wide, blue eyes. My legs were longer than most middle-schoolers and I frolicked through the tall grass with much more grace than I ever remembered having. I actually remember being self-conscious with how clumsy I thought I was and how masculine I felt being so tall and strong and being a girl with only two brothers.

I watched myself on the screen, smiling my crooked smile and wearing clothes that fit me awkwardly (like every preteen does) and I choked back tears because I remembered being that girl and hating myself so much. I never fit in with anyone or anything and quickly gave up on trying. I built walls and hid behind them, refusing to believe that any part of me was any good or worth any self-respect. I retreated to living in my own mind where I could ponder on things and imagine what things must feel like out there. From the chair in my folks’ living room watching her there, I wanted to jump through the screen and hug her neck and tell her that she is so beautiful and that there’s a blossoming world around her that is far greater and more powerful than any insecurities—it’s a world for everyone.

Like Colin in The Secret Garden, I had no idea of my own strength and abilities for so long, only it was because of my own insecurities, not a staff of enablers. I sat in my mind, scared and lonely and bitter in so many ways, and although I didn’t have a Mary to find me weeping in my room, I did eventually make it outside to see what was growing. I finally went outside as an adult which is why I suppose I find myself searching for magic and meaning and little cracks in the surface so much these days.

I was glad to watch the videos but also so surprised at what I saw. I’m not even sure what I’m getting at by typing all of this out except to say that whether it be going outside the house or going outside our own minds, it’s limitless what you’ll find out there. The world is a beautiful place of wonder and growing and kisses from the sun and we should go out there every day so that we may live forever and ever. That young, frolicking girl in the grainy video at my folk’s house had no idea how beautiful she was and no idea that the world was reaching for her and yearning for her touch. At the same time, she didn’t realize how much she missed the warmth of the sun by living behind her own walls. Now that she’s been out there though, the opportunities are endless and the ground is aching to be tilled so that its flowers may bloom.

The cardinal bounces around several feet away from me before flapping away into the trees. Instead of a buried key, perhaps this is exactly what he wanted me to find—the realization that age has no impact on your ability to wonder. Time has no impact on how you can love yourself. Walls can be broken. And that no matter how cold or seemingly dead the world is, there is magic happening beneath the soil. Time and TLC will help it grow.

Afterall, if you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.

When Trees Talk

The new year, whose force of reflection and goal-setting is so proverbial, has caught me in its clutches as I sit, staring out the large window in my living room with tears streaming down my face. A cold front is pushing through as I type this—it’s lashing through the trees and sending my windchimes into resounding choruses while gray-slated clouds race each other across the sky. I watch as the leaves on the magnolia trees flicker in the wind—they flip and flop so quickly from waxy side to dull side that they’re twinkling. The bare branches of the pecan trees wave back and forth like long, skeletal fingers trying to get my attention as I’m struggling to scramble up the sides of this muddy-mind pit in which I’ve fallen.

I suspect I’m here because I don’t do well in the hype around new years: all of its pressure to start again and set goals and review where you’ve been and where you’re going. Not to mention that I loathe fireworks and much like my donkeys, feel like I spend several days after 12:00AM, January 1st trying to recover from the stress of the “celebratory” explosions. Why do we blow things up to welcome a new year, anyway?

I do advocate learning from the past and responsibly preparing for the future, but as a person living with anxiety, it’s easy for me to get lost in the mistakes of the past and in the uncertainties of the future to the point where I lose sight of what’s unfolding in front of me right now: what’s occurring in my present moment. I worry endlessly about all those things that I cannot, despite my efforts, control.

An anxious mind struggles to slow down: it’s not defaulted to normal speed. An anxious mind, as Doctor Who said once about the essence of time, is “…more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly… time-y wimey… stuff…” only, instead of “time-y wimey,” it’s “what-iffy, but why-oh-why-ey” stuff. Further, the constant feed of resolutions and deals and changes everywhere buries the anxious mind in layers upon layers of memos in which I know I’ll never, EVER have a chance to respond.

My anxious mind can’t see which way is up or down right now so I’m staring and crying and now typing in hopes that I’ll land on some sort of an answer or epiphany as to how the heck one can calm down while they’re this deep in the ground as the mud is sliding down with more and more and more horsepower (or, more accurately, donkey power.)

The trees are still waving their bony branches. I’m watching intently and thinking of waving back when I realize that there’s something profound here. I’m remembering reading once from a Zen story, something about someone pointing at the moon and you looking at where they’re pointing is not actually the moon or the moon’s location, but it’s just you gazing past their finger to see the moon. So no matter how accurately someone else points at the moon, you’ll only ever see their finger hovering over it (or something like that). The point being that it is the practice and the patience of your own journey that will land you on the moon one day, and maybe that’s what my pecan trees are doing right now. They’re waving at me, encouraging me to slow the eff down and look at them. Right now, they’re dancing. By God, they’re dancing! Look at them go!

Before it gets too chilly out there, I’ll need to go out and visit with the donkeys. I’ll shuffle them into their shelters with fresh hay and water and give them each some snuggles. I do hope that all of you have a wonderful new year, but more importantly, I hope you’re all having a wonderful right now. At the end of it all, life is made of right now’s and so new year or not, you always have the opportunity to begin again. Every breath and every moment is new and not every breath or every moment needs fireworks to be meaningful.

…and if it were my world, fireworks would be left to the professionals always…not in neighborhoods to terrorize poor animals who don’t understand that the wild explosions aren’t the world ending around them. I really do hate fireworks.

When Trees Talk