Grateful to Guest Blog!

I want to extend a very special thank you to our friends at Donkey Time for allowing me to write a guest blog on their beautiful site! Since my children’s book, “Tink the Bravest Donkey,” went on sale, I’ve been asked how this story came to be. Check out the backstory on my book and learn all about how indeed, the real-life Tink was and will always be the bravest donkey.

That story here: Tink: the little donkey who dared to be different

And if like me, you’re an advocate of donkeys, give Donkey Time a follow! Their site is packed full of donkey resources and stories from around the globe!

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Forever our boy, Tink.

Roots

It’s a chilly afternoon and I’ve finally decided to clear the weeds and old roots from the garden in order to prepare for a new, spring crop. My fall garden was a bust: I didn’t do enough research on planting in sticky, gumbo soil and we had a bizarre, hard freeze in mid-November which killed off everything weeks before I was planning to harvest. My fall garden yielded three green beans. Three.

I suppose it’s fine—I was travelling a lot last fall, so my chances of upkeeping a garden with the love and respect it deserved and needed were probably low. Plus, I haven’t built up a proper compost heap this time around. The odds have been against it and for more than two months now, I’ve let weeds and grass overtake my sad, little garden.

I pick a corner and kneel down to begin pulling up weeds. Dampness from the soil soaks into the knees of my jeans, but I don’t mind. I start by raking the stringier weeds with my fingers which are tangled loosely across the top of the bushier and more deeply-rooted growth below. Rake, rake rake. Dirt gathers beneath my fingernails and what was a chilly afternoon has become quite warm with my repetitive movements.

The repetitious motions of backyard gardening is therapeutic. Row by row, whether planting or clearing, there’s a natural rhythm that guides the process regardless of your being a seasoned gardener or not. Rake the loose weeds. Dig around the stubborn ones. Pull the deep roots. Brush away the leftover. Rake rake, dig dig, pull pull, brush, brush. Rake rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. 

Bit by bit and breath by breath, I travel through my garden removing that which is alive with rapidly reproducing weeds and dead from poor management and unfortunate circumstance.

It’s a bit grim: the idea that death must occur and be grieved in order to make way for new life. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to move on from things of the past and how to start the healing (replanting) process. Like all people, I’ve had my share of heartache, hurt, missteps, and much like my garden, have fallen victim to poor management and unfortunate circumstance. Neglect. Distraction. Habitually pushing care to the back-burner. All that.

So here, squatting down in the mud and the weeds that are here because of my neglect, I imagine that the soil is life-giving light and the weeds are darkness, swiftly crawling across and covering the richness and space from which life, love, and nourishment sprouts. Rake, rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush.

Gosh, there are weeds everywhere. It’d be easier to just let the whole thing go, I doubt I’ll have time for a garden this spring, anyway. My hands are beginning to hurt and the dampness from the ground has spread past my knees and down my shins. For the first time, I notice my fingertips covered in tiny, red cuts from small spikes in the seemingly infinite growth and holy moly they sting. Why didn’t I wear gloves? It’s so hot out here.

My heart rate has risen significantly and I can no longer find my breath. I try counting, but can’t hold my attention span to the count of four anymore. I pull my phone out of my back pocket and find the app which is connected to the USB-sized monitor implanted in my chest, right above my heart. It’s recording all the time, but I’m supposed to report when I can feel abnormal things occuring, which is often and especially when I do things like squat down for too long. I sit back, butt in the mud, and lean against the small, picket fence as the app begins to record my heart’s rhythm which is heavy and fluttering. The space around me vignettes itself and my fingers and toes begin to go numb. 

I close my eyes feeling the wet ground absorb into my jeans and try again to find my breath. Rake, rake, dig, dig, pull, pull, brush, brush. One, two, three…One, two…One, two, three.

It’s like I can’t get the breath all the way to the bottom of my lungs: it stops halfway. I make a concerted effort to relax my gut, pelvis, chest, and eyes, and try to imagine sinking a little farther down into the wet ground. Instead of counting, I picture a jellyfish gently and repetitively pulsing through the water. My friend and teacher, Stacey Ramsower, shared this image with me recently and it’s since resonated quite vividly. I picture my diaphragm and pelvic floor moving in tandem in the same way a jellyfish propels itself through the deep: smoothly, rhythmically, and beautifully. Something about the image seems more accessible than the count right now. Blub, blub, blub she goes…soft, smooth, and infinite. 

Blub, blub, blub, through the blue.
Blub, blub, blub, held by water.

After a while and once the flapping wings of my butterfly heart calm down, I open my eyes and lean forward, placing my forearms on my knees. My fingers and toes prickle as blood begins to pour back into them and the world around is light once more. I submit the recording to my doctor and slide my phone back in my pocket. I figure I ought to be heading in to get some water and rest, but then something catches my eye. What is that?

I scramble to my hands and knees and crawl to a tall, bright green growth reaching from the weeds. I trace my fingers down the delicate stems and carefully pull up. Oh my goodness. I start to laugh.

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I stand, holding the small carrot ball and look around. This bird’s eye view has allowed me to discover that several other plants have inched above the weeds reaching for sunlight, so one by one, I trace their stems and pull their roots gently from the ground.

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Brave, little root veggies. My goodness, I had no idea anything could’ve survived multiple hard freezes and certainly not beneath the heavy darkness that’s blanketed their space for so long. They may be small and oddly shaped, but boy they are phenomenal (and cute!) I suppose small specs of light can indeed penetrate darkness. Maybe it just requires a shift in perspective.


I spent much of the rest of this day reclined on the couch with a big glass of water while imagining whole blooms of jellyfish pulsing together through the deep. How strange it must be to pulse endlessly through the darkness…strange but oddly encouraging. Blub, blub, pulse, pulse, on and on they go. Infinite, rhythmic movement.

I imagined the proverbial weeds that often stretch themselves across me and how somehow, someway, light manages to get through. Sure, sometimes, that light goes undiscovered for a while, but it’s there. It is. And certainly it’s worth the blood, sweat, and pain to pull back the darkness and make way for more light. Just start in a corner and see what happens. Darkness breeds in neglect. I’d say, get in and get your hands dirty.

Even if you don’t find anything the first few times you start raking, digging, pulling, and brushing, the process is still wonderfully meditative—the re-examination of a familiar space that’s gone untouched for a while is so helpful for growth. Afterall, you can’t start a new garden without first tearing up and dealing with the old, deceased one. In that death and chaos lies life waiting to bloom and be discovered. 

Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub

I took a stroll down memory lane this morning and found this little blog I posted from two years ago. It’s amazing to me how certain themes can carry on through time and circumstance. Most importantly (I believe) is the reminder that you are a being worthy of love and respect simply because you’re you. And donkeys are still cute. ❤

A Donkumentary

It’s a cold, damp morning and I’ve just come in from spending time with the donkeys. As I’m here, warming my hands around my coffee mug, I’m thinking of things like Tink’s hoof, what Little Foot and I are going to do today, and the yoga class I’ll teach this evening and I’m having trouble navigating through my mind-chatter.

I’ve not written a new blog post in some time, although I’ve started many entries without success. Draft after untitled draft sit sadly and incomplete in the folder open on my desktop because I’ve had a difficult time sorting through the thoughts in my head enough to make any readable sense out of them. I suspect it’s because my confidence and esteem are struggling under the weight of endless rejections both in my efforts to make any kind of career out my my writing and out of seeing any sort of…

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Your Own Art

If you’ve been following my blog or social medias for some time, you may remember that I’m a yoga instructor. It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything regarding my yoga practice or teaching (which I’ll get to in a moment) but to give you a bit of background, I started practicing yoga when I was 16 years old—my mom and I habitually attended a Friday night yoga class at the local YMCA which was taught by a woman who we’d come to refer to as “The Queen.” Long down the road, after I’d graduated college, worked several years in the corporate world, and had a quarter-life crisis that resembled one of those fast-motion videos of a tarantula shedding their skin, I abruptly quit the rat race, went through a program to receive my 200hr yoga teaching certificate, and started leading yoga classes pretty much anywhere that would hire me.

Even when I moved away from my hometown out to Nowhere, Texas where the donkey named Bunny came into my life, I found a place a few towns over where I was able to continue teaching yoga classes. In a lot of ways, I loved and adored it. What I appreciated most about leading a yoga class was feeling responsible for providing a space where people could come as they were. I tried desperately to show love and provide support for those who came through the door no matter what kind of baggage they brought in with them. I also liked making yoga-music playlists—that became an odd therapy for me, especially when my anxiety would begin to spiral in response to some trigger. In these moments, I’d open Spotify and start building playlists, exploring recommended music, and losing myself in the rabbit hole of “we think you might also like this!” Thanks, internet cookies.

Fast forward and at the time I moved away from Nowhere, Texas to Sort-Of-On-The-Map, Texas, I  thought that finding a new place to teach yoga would be a priority of mine, but to date, it hasn’t. Every time I’ve opened up my computer to search studios and openings, my eyes glaze over, my heart begins to race, and I distract myself with something else. Old students of mine who enjoyed my classes have asked me why I’m not teaching yet and truth be told, I don’t have an answer. I, myself, have been left wondering why?

I’ve looked at simply attending yoga classes—reading about new studios and teachers with the thought that maybe I just need to get in and revisit my own personal practice outside the home without the responsibility to lead (afterall, we should all be perpetual students) but much to my dismay, even browsing yoga sites has become a massive source of anxiety for me. “We’ll help you find a better you!” “$20 off New Year’s Deal! Stick to those resolutions!” Filtered pictures of sweaty, toned bodies with expensive clothes. “Find your Zen!” even though the picture attached is a complex arm balance where you can tell by her abs that the model is straining to hold still.

Let me pause. I don’t mean to speak ill of these places. I am never against people wanting to get healthy and man, if you can go into a hot yoga studio and actually unplug and detox or whatever, then good on ya. No judgement, I promise. Please know, I’m not writing about you or at you; I’m writing about me and the very personal journey I’m on through my anxious self right now and we all have incredibly different stories. I hope you don’t take my opinions which apply to my place right now, personally.  

Anyway, why, as a person who left it all to teach yoga full time all those years ago, have I had such a hard time connecting with practice outside of my own bedroom floor? (I do still practice yoga on my own three or four times a week before the sun rises…but my practice is a lot of sitting and listening to the birds wake up, gently stretching small muscles, and staring out the window.)

I ponder this often and deeply. Yoga is a big part of who I am…I mean, it’s one of the only things still in my life from when I was a teenager. At least I thought it was. It’s supposed to be a disconnect from the chaotic and fabricated hubbub of living in the 21st century: a reconnection to our roots and to the Earth so that when we walk around out there, we feel grounded. It’s supposed to help us from getting lost in it all.

But then I wonder, has yoga (and teaching yoga) for me, become a distracting vice, in and of itself? Instead of NOT getting lost in it all, have I lost myself even more? Is that why I cringe when I hear people say “wow, you’re really good at yoga,” because what is “being good at yoga?” Touching your toes? Doing a handstand? Is it why I feel uncomfortable and competitive when I attend yoga classes? I’m an instructor, I should be able to do the difficult poses, right? Otherwise, won’t people question my ability to lead at all?

Here’s an example: I remember years ago when I first started leading yoga classes as a fairly new teacher, I attended a class as a student and the instructor asked me to demonstrate a move where you jump from downward-facing dog into forward fold. This is not something I do at all, let alone, do well. I’ve broken both of my wrists, have short arms, and most importantly, just don’t like it…so I usually just walk up with little steps from down dog into forward fold when making that transition. I told the instructor this (he knew that I was also an instructor) and he responded with, “well, just show the others in the class what not to do.” All eyes were on me and in the moment, what I really wanted to say was, “well, what not to do is do anything you’re uncomfortable with” but instead, my fear of being seen as weak or less than (I was  an instructor, too, after all) overtook me and ego made me demonstrate the jump in the best way I could. It was not good and the instructor laughed and said, “okay, now you’ve definitely shown us what not to do.” Everyone else chuckled, too. I spent the rest of class with bright red, burning and embarrassed cheeks and tension in my whole body because I was illustratively, “what not to do.”

Granted, I’m sure this instructor had no malicious intention of putting me on the spot like that and to his credit, I am very good at camouflaging my discomfort in public settings to be perceived as confident and completely okay with being the center of attention (even when I am so, unbearably, not.) But the point is this: yoga is not about forcing yourself into uncomfortable positions or movements, especially because you feel like you have to for others. Yoga, like art, is highly personal and uniquely interpreted and tailored to the yogi’s (artist’s) interpretation. Are pretzel-like inversions your honest expression? Or is it leaning against a wall noticing the way your belly moves around when you breathe for a whole hour? I think both are correct, just depending on what you actually need in that moment of practice.

Which brings me to my original point of this blog: why I haven’t talked about or taught yoga in so long. I believe it’s because that’s just where I am right now. That what I actually need is internal exploration deeper than the movements traditionally offered in yoga classes. Yoga for me right now is learning to connect more deeply with my innards and I can’t seem to honestly do that when someone else is suggesting different moves and breathing patterns. It’s learning from a trusted source how to discover just how much tension I’m holding in my pelvis and what that’s doing to the rest of my body to which it radiates. It’s looking through holes in my heart that are there because I was bullied as a kid and grew up thinking that it was my job to please everyone around me instead of seeking out my own truths. It’s actually rooting with the Earth by feeling the blood pulsing through my veins in the same way water rushes through rivers.

Yoga for me right now is walking around out behind the barn and seeing just how green everything is becoming out there…smelling the rich growth that’s happening right before our eyes and surrendering myself to its majesty. My gosh, nature is glorious therapy. Yoga is going for a walk with my donkeys because they don’t give a flying #!&* about what others in the room may be expecting of them…they exist in every moment and if you let them they’ll pull you right smack-dab into the epicenter of the present with them. And they’ll do it gently. They won’t put you on the spot. They won’t tell you if you’re doing a good job or not. They’ll just be with you.

So for now, teaching yoga is not what I need. Even a few months ago, I don’t think I could have admitted to that or confessed it because I think society teaches us that self-care and boundaries are often selfish. Or that if you’re not going-going-going that you’re not as good as everyone else. Meanwhile, we’re walking around anxious and depressed and spending hours scrolling on social media and binge drinking to distract ourselves from the fact that we are so disconnected from our own truths that we’re scared to even begin looking. I can’t help but think that many of the serious, physical ailments I dealt with over most of the last year had a lot to do with seriously distracting myself from what was really going on inside and just going harder and harder so I didn’t fall behind everyone else. Is it worth our health and longevity? I doubt it. 

Please note, my journey is unique to me and because I’m overly sensitive and spin into an anxious mess at the thought of ever offending anyone, I want to be very clear that I, in no way, extend judgement to those of you out there practicing yoga or teaching yoga regularly in whatever setting you find fulfilling for yourself. My experience has led me to this place and I write about it 1) because I write shit down to work it out, 2) because it’s been heavy on my mind and heart for some time, and 3) because I’ve been reading words and spending time with people who have helped me realize that it’s okay to follow your own, true path and that you should be respecting your sweet selves, regardless of any preconceived expectations of you.

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All this being said, I made the time this past weekend to make a trip to reconnect with one of my all-time favorite yoga instructors down in Houston, Texas, Amanda Field. Her and I go way back and it’s been nearly 6 years since I’ve seen her or attended one of her yoga classes. My blog stats tell me I get a lot of readership from the Houston area, so if you happen to be looking for a place to practice yoga that does not judge you, force you into anything, compete with you, or treat you like nothing more than a profit margin, I recommend connecting with her and attending a class at her brand-new studio which is set to open in just a couple weeks. She is knowledgeable, always learning, candid, welcoming, and specializes in helping tailor movements to most fit her student’s needs (and when she can’t find the move or prop to meet her student’s needs, she just goes on and creates something to assist! Check out her product: The Yoga Triangle). She is the type of instructor I strive to be when I am teaching and even better, she encourages others to practice yoga as self-expression and art. You can find out more about her and what she offers here: https://www.amandafieldyoga.com/

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From Amanda’s studio, Republic Aerial Yoga in Houston, TX

 

If nothing else, I would suggest trying to make some time to hold a mirror up to your face, so to speak. Make sure you’re taking time to look inward to ask the tough questions, to see the scars, and to make yourself a priority. We have to undo the notion that to self-care is to be selfish. As the saying goes, you can’t serve from an empty cup. Go fill up.

NamasBRAY, Jess