Waiting out the Storm

It’s an East Texas downpour out there—the kind where I know that somewhere beyond the endless sheets of rain is a brown barn that inside, must be awfully loud beneath a tin roof, although I can’t see more than a blur of gray and swaying, green smudges that are the swelling leaves of new, spring life. I keep wanting to clean up and till the garden to start anew, but every time I find a few free moments to get out there and tend to her, storms move through with a fury, washing out the loose soil and feeding the rampant weeds that I can’t seem to get out in front of, no matter how I try.

Through a foggy window, I watch the rain switch directions over and over again as lightning flashes every few seconds and drum rolls of thunder barrel by almost without break. The forecast shows we have several more days of this and I keep thinking of the garden flooding, washing away any bit of useful dirt and leaving behind hard-packed, red clay that’s been beaten down into a calloused and impenetrable space.

I think of the donkeys in the loud barn, imagining their eyes staring out into the blurry forest that surrounds our house. With ears as sensitive as theirs, storms like this must be painful. Both of my dogs are hidden in a closet right now, terrified of the thunder that crashes through, full-bellied and heavy, every few seconds. It’s the kind of thunder you feel in your chest—ribs rattling with the rolls—a direct hit to the heart every time.

I worry I’ve missed my window to plant a garden that might have a growing-chance because after this stormy season comes that notorious, inescapable, Texas summer. Watching this storm, however, I suppose that even if I’d gotten those tiny, eager seedlings into the ground and meticulously arranged the mulch, cages, and cork-labels around them, they’d have rotted in the rain water by now or been washed away before establishing any real roots. How can roots reach out when every time those tiny arms try to grab at the spaces outside of themselves, their entire world floods and deforms, leaving nothing solid to latch onto or dig deeper into?

Still, here in early spring, bright, green life is blooming rapidly in all directions up in the treetops. Heavy with leaves, their branches droop down and cast dark and cool shadows across the yard. Along the edges of things, sunflower sprouts and sweet grass reach high towards the sun when she’s out and radiating while aggressive, spiky weeds slither and slap across the ground like an octopus out of water.

But it’s the little seeds in their tiny pods with thread-like roots: cantaloupe and cucumbers, tomatoes and hot peppers, sweet peas and turnips, that I want to gently transfer outside and tend to daily so I can watch them reach, swirl, and grow and witness the fruit they could bear. It’s just for now, they don’t seem like they’ll have a fighting chance as the rain falls harder and faster creating muddy pools that’ll take days to recede. I lose hope that my tiny, delicate seedlings will sprout and find their real roots in the ground outside: little seeds that started out so hopeful in little baggies, labeled proudly and waiting to learn what it feels like to reach into the warm, open air. I’ve read so many books and blogs that have told me when it’s the perfect time to plant around here, but I just can’t seem to land on that perfect time and as I watch the blurs of grays and greens whip and lash around outside, I doubt I’ll find that perfect time.

I’ve read about above ground gardening, seen pictures and how-tos, and have even been encouraged by some to take that route. Maybe I will. Maybe I have to. I guess that’s the problem with laying all your hopes down in the space you cleared up near your house where the sun would be perfect and the drainage seemed ideal because of the slant. You root for that space that you spent time clearing and turning with your hands, shovel, and tiller and fenced in to keep the rabbits out. You liked the idea of digging down a little deeper, where it’s cool and dark and full of strange bugs that tie themselves in knots when the sun touches them. The idea that the root’s paths were essentially endless without a bottom created hope for their strength and growth to be infinite. I’ve always thought that the deeper we dig, the taller we must grow.

But then these days, it feels like it’s all about building up. Building up, filling in, creating drainage systems, and using that cold, hard clay as a foundation….a base…a starting point that if you’re building up and up, doesn’t really matter if it’s too hard to breakthrough. You use the callouses as starting points from which to move forward, not to dig beneath in hopes they’ll ever soften enough to allow for real, fruitful growth.

The storm has subsided a bit now into a steady, straight-down rain that you can actually see through. There are some large branches scattered around the yard: branches without new, green leaves that the trees must’ve been ready to shed to make way for anew. Branches that had must have been overrun with bugs or rot or had simply just died off because their part was finished. The trees must feel lighter now—relieved, even—having rid themselves of their heavy, dead branches.

I don’t think I’m ready to give up on the idea of digging down into that now hard and calloused space I’ve created. It doesn’t feel dead to me yet and abandoning it, I suspect, would bring me no relief. It just needs more time. It needs more tilling. It needs to be fed and touched and rid of the sneaky weeds that grow faster than the fruit I intend to grow.

So I suppose I’ll keep waiting. Waiting. Waiting for the storm to pass and the for the sun to dry the puddles so I can get back to turning and digging and loosening the ground enough for roots to travel freely and growth to reach up full and tall.

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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

 

 

 

The Midday Scorcher

I’m three hours into a drive out west and it’s hotter’n blue blazes out there. My dash board’s telling me it’s 116 degrees, but even with the a/c working as hard as it can, that temperature feels underestimated. Having lived in Texas my whole life, I’m supposed to be used to this, but hoo boy I tell ya, there’s no getting used to frying eggs in your driveway.

Still, I love this drive. This 6-hour jaunt out west to the land of 1,000 donkeys that I find excuses to make where I end up on two-lane highways surrounded by prickly pears and yucca plants is therapy. I have no cell service on much of this route and either spend it listening to a pre-downloaded audio book or all of my Old Crow Medicine Show albums. I am as good’a singer as Ketch Secor on these drives; it’s a shame no one else ever gets to witness it—seems to only happen when I’m alone. 😉

Speaking of Ketch Secor, the novel I’m coincidentally listening to on this trip is ‘The Midnight Cool’ written by his wife (at least that’s what the interwebs tells me; I habitually read about authors I enjoy) and amazing writer, Lydia Peelle. You’ll never guess it, but this book is chalk full of mules….and not just mules as outlying, empty creatures that serve as backdrop ornaments to set tone or mood, but as detailed, respected, and complex and I gotta tell you, it’s the first novel I’ve read (well, listened to) that does this. She talks about how the “…humble long ear has been the victim of much mudslinging” which, whether you’re talking about a mule or their father, the donkey, it’s true. I’m hanging on every word she’s written (and is being read to me wonderfully by Don Hagen) and it just gets me that much more giddy about arriving at my destination.

Y’all know by now that I work with the Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue (it’s where I’m headed on this mirage-inducing drive) and as such, it’s become a red-hot goal of mine (and frankly, my highest honor) to spread the word about donkey welfare. They are victims of mudslinging like Ms. Peelle describes…they’re the butts of jokes, the forgotten warriors, the misunderstood creatures. But it’s true that anyone who takes the time to get to know them realizes that there are worlds within a donkey’s eyes. There is tenderness in their hearts. There is a gravity about them: an inescapable yet peaceful gravity.

My donkeys are what keep me grounded. No matter the day or time, if I need someone to lean on, they’re there. If I need someone to sit with for a while, they’re there. I never ask them to do this, they just do.

How much are we misunderstanding simply because we’re not taking the time? Not just donkeys or mules, but everyone? Over the years, I’ve learned from many people the assumptions they’ve made about me which have often been based on my behaviors as a person riddled with deeply-seeded anxiety (which I suppose is understandable, I can be difficult to be around sometimes…an ungentiled and untrusting donkey.) But at the core of myself, (like a donkey) I’m loyal too. I’ll sit with damn near anyone who just needs a shoulder for a while. I’m overly cautious (which is often seen as stubborn).

I don’t mean to sound egotistical, but I’m comfortable enough with myself to love my own isms, especially the more I choose to learn about them and the more I’m starting to realize that if reincarnation is indeed a thing, I might’ve been a donkey in my past life. Same goes for donkeys—how many people jump to the conclusion that they’ve got pea-sized brains because some movie made an ass joke about them while trotting a big, statuesque and shiny hero-horse by?
It’s been a while since I’ve passed another vehicle and I start to wonder if my car broke down in the heat of this sun, what would I do? No cell service, no folks passing by, no donkeys to lean on. I suppose I’d find some shade and listen to this book some more until someone came along.

On I drive, my heart happier and happier that I found this novel by chance. I’ve decided that if somehow, someway I ever get the chance to meet Lydia Peelle, I’d like to hug her neck and thank her for what she has to say about long-ears. She’s fighting the fight I’ve only barely begun: the uphill battle in convincing the world that donkeys (and their kin) are the best. Donkeys are what we should all be striving to be: kind, cautious, loyal, inquisitive, and strong even when it’s so hard sometimes.

To my left, two dust devils dance around one another in a vast acreage of red dirt and brush, their bases hopping around like they too feel the heat on the ground. It’s quite lovely what nature does when she thinks she’s not being watched. Deer delicately pick the flowers out of the prickly pears. Cows lay peacefully in the shade of any tree they can find, their sides and rumps touching I imagine, because they just want to be sure of each other. Vultures float in tornadoes around something dying or decaying, their bellies anxious for a meal.

Makes me wonder what we do most when we think we’re not being watched. In a lot of cases, I don’t think we’re much different from the dust devils, the deer, the cows, or the vultures. We’re all part of this bizarre life quilt sewn together by all of our strange and often misunderstood isms. It’s quite lovely.

‘The Midnight Cool’ reaches the end of a chapter and so I switch my speakers over to Old Crow’s version of Bob Dylan’s “Visions of Johanna.” I turn it up as loud as my speakers will go singing along with every complex lyric, giddy and thrilled that in a few short hours, I’ll be at my home away from home—the land of 1,000 donkeys—the place where my fire for change is stoked like no other.

Here’s to donkeys. Here’s to those who fight for them. Here’s to those who hopefully come to know them. And here’s to each other:

“…Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while…”

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Humidity. Healing.

Few places hold a torch when it comes to humidity intensity in the East Texas piney woods, especially after four straight days of early-summer rainfall. Breathing outside during dawn or dusk is like inhaling warm, invisible snot that sticks in little teardrop beads to every single part of you. It’s oddly sentimental though; growing up in SE Texas, the humidity is like a tight hug from your grandmother who always smells like home cooked something: noodles and pork chops, rosemary bread, brown gravy. Humidity like this can be embracing and comforting—a reminder that at the end of a long, stressful day, she’s here for you whether you think you need her or not.

Under a darkening, blue sky with broad, brush-stroked pinks and purples, grandmother humidity wraps herself about me as I close the barn door and secure the latch. I faintly hear hay crunching from inside: donkey dinner time.

This is a chore I’ve had for years now (the shuffling of donkeys into their shelter and distribution of their hay) and for the first time, it’s completely worn me out. I stand in front of the barn and lean my weight into the door for a moment to catch my breath, the damp air lining my lungs like teflon. My vision blurs and my heart hops heavily as I close my eyes and wait for the feeling of lightheadedness to pass. I’ve been ill—at times severely—over the past two months. It occurs to me that I’ve never been the kind of ill that causes such a profound loss of strength: my muscles having diminished to soft, wobbly blobs on my bones. King Ranch was right, it was probably too soon for me to bring the donkeys in alone…but I missed that part of my evening routine and insisted I give it a try. I see him now standing in the window watching me from the house, his face a mix of concern and I told you so.

I think I’m beginning to heal, but healing is a tricky thing. It’s not like illness, injury, or brokenness must come to a clean stop before healing can begin; I think there’s a lot of overlap. There are gains and losses between brokenness and healing. They toggle around: a tug-of-war that pulls one way, then another. Back and forth and back and forth as each side loses and gains strength, they fight to win you over.

Healing is a funny thing: her ability to be happening and not happening at the same time. Healing can be busy at work even when we don’t think she’s there but I also think we can control parts of our healing, too. Healing is like breathing: when you’re not thinking about it, healing involuntarily happens on her own but simultaneously, when you’re aware of it, you can either help healing or hinder her. You can decide to block healing by not letting go or being too afraid to look forward.

Of course, some things never fully heal and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Healing, as I’m imagining her as this personified ghost in our beings, is smart. I like that healing allows for some scars to stick around to remind you of the past…like if you were bullied in school, I think she leaves those memories there so that you can remember to be kind to others—that what we say and do to each other really does matter and it really sucks when you’re treated badly. She leaves scars over our hearts so we can remember how brave we once were and when life buries us with piles of uncontrollable circumstance, we can look down at the discolored scar and remember our bravery….our strength.

My vision finally clears itself of yellowish stars and through the heavy dampness, I begin what seems like a very long walk back to the house. Cicadas call from the treetops—their buzzing and clicking chorus an audible illustration of what the inside of my head and chest feels like. Everything is just so unfocused and fuzzy.

But a few days ago, I couldn’t make this walk on my own and yet, here I am. The bandages stuck to me itch in the humidity and I’m anxious to remove them soon to see what’s left in their place…but I still have some time before I can do that. Right now, I’ll take the itching, the pain, the frightening vulnerability and fear of infection all as parts of healing doing her job. It’s because of her that I got the donkeys in tonight and could run my fingers through their shedding fur. But now she’s telling me to go lay down. The beads of humidity roll down my arms and it almost feels as if grandmother humidity is pushing me back towards the house: all these forces telling me to take it easy.

We should listen to them: listen to what our bodies are trying to tell us. Intuition is a powerful thing.

I hear ya humidity. I hear ya, healing. I’ll go lay down now and try again tomorrow.

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Fly, Blackbird, Fly

It’s not quite dawn and I’ve just finished leading a guided meditation which I do with a group of friends three times a week before the sun comes up. It’s never anything fancy, just fifteen or so minutes that we spend together trying to slow down and relax, utilizing the interwebs to connect digitally to share this time.

After the meditation, I pour a cup of coffee and sit for a while. Most mornings like these, Little Foot is still asleep and the donkeys haven’t brayed yet to let me know they’re ready to be let out into the pasture. The sun’s not peeked through the trees and the stillness in my living room is profound. I’ve written before about sitting with silence during this time (that post here) so I won’t go into that again. I do feel that silence and me are becoming more and more acquainted, though. It’s a welcome friendship.

I decide to go outside early—before the glow of the sun bounces off the dew in the grass. It’s damp and cool out this morning and hanging from the awning over my back patio, a black spider is wrapping something tightly on an arm of her snowflake-shaped web.

I shut the door behind me, a sound the donkeys can hear and they must be surprised by my early movement because Bunny brays, then Tink, then Tee and finally, my last adoptable donkey available, The Professor: a pre-dawn chorus. In their shed, I kneel down next to Tink to wrap his hoof and secure his boot before taking time to greet each donkey. They’re even more peaceful in the mornings which for donkeys, is saying a lot.

I’ve not much to say this morning. Several times over the past couple of weeks, I’ve started and then deleted many blog post drafts, none of which have become anything I’ve felt was worth a post. That’s not to say that nothing interesting is happening, in fact a lot is going on…large, life-changing events are happening within our family and to our ranch but because I’m an anxious mind with a tendency to be superstitious about things, I’ve refrained from revealing these changes in an effort to not jinx it all. What I will say has happened is that I’ve allowed myself to become consumed by and buried beneath task after time sensitive task and it’s forced me into reclusive mode.

Breathing deeply helps. Pulling in a long breath, holding it for a few seconds, and then sighing it out helps. Not losing sight of self-worth and refraining from placing self-value in the hands of others helps, too.

As I walk back towards the house, the sky just starting to turn purple, a flock of blackbirds soars overhead, their broad wings gliding effortlessly and I realize my skin is prickling. I close my eyes and draw in a long breath, all the way into the bottom of my lungs. The air is a bright light, swirling down my spine and spreading like spilled ink through my body. I hold it in, the light glowing brighter and brighter, my body relaxing in its warmth. I hold that alabaster peace with all I’ve got and then finally, I exhale and open my eyes.

A single blackbird squabbles in the sky. She is struggling to catch up to the rest of the flock, wings flapping frantically and clumsily, and I’m suddenly overtaken by fear that something’s going to happen to that bird. Why is she struggling so badly? Is she hurt? Eyes wide, I watch the straggler disappear over the trees and suddenly I’m panicking. I search the sky for any other birds but there are none. My heart races and my to do list tumbles down, across the ground in my mind’s eye—a ten-mile long scroll. Everything that’s hanging in the balance falls and shatters and the weight of the world itself lays down across my chest. Fly, blackbird, fly. Come on.

The donkeys are standing next to me now, calm and quiet, and so I take another long, deep breath. I hold it in, trying to visualize the movement of light again but my mind is racing so quickly that I can’t see a thing, just a blur of worry. I sigh and breathe deeply again. No light. My heart’s racing and my breath is shallow. One more time, I breathe deeply, hold it in, and finally sigh it out, cold and dark.

I scan the sky once more, but the blackbirds are gone. I lean on Bunny—it’s like she knows when I’m having a panic attack and knows that by being there, it helps. It does.

I think we’ve all been that blackbird. We’ve all fallen behind, despite how hard we’ve worked. We’ve all been alone, watching the rest move along with ease. I want so badly for that blackbird to catch up to her friends, to the rest, so she doesn’t feel so alone but then I realize that maybe she’s making her own path. Maybe being separated from the rest, misunderstood and a bit clumsy, is just who she is right now. And that’s okay because at least on this morning, she’s still moving forward.

I hug my sweet donkey, her breath steady and mine now too, and with my gray pajama pants tucked into the tops of my work boots which I slipped on without socks, I walk back towards the house where I’ll sit on my couch with a second cup of coffee for just a bit longer, waiting for the sun to come up.

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Beating Hearts

Yesterday, I studied the date on the donkey calendar that hangs over my desk for more than a moment trying to recall why August 2nd was significant when it finally hit me: six years ago on August 2nd, I had heart surgery. It wasn’t open heart surgery with a cracked open chest but instead, a procedure where they went in through my femoral artery to travel into my heart with heated instruments whose mission was to cauterize the ends of several rouge nerves that were misfiring around my struggling heart. The real kicker of the surgery was that I had to be awake in order to have my heart behaving in her most natural way. It hurt like hell.

I’ve talked in my blog before about my heart surgery, so I won’t go into more detail about that particular day, but what I am reminded of everytime this date rolls around is just how important it is to properly care for your sweet heart and just how great the strength is of that little ticker. Dr. Seuss said that you’re “stronger than you seem” and I’m pretty sure that kind of deep-seeded strength comes from your ole beating heart. I got to know my heart pretty well that day—that day when I learned what it felt like to have your heart literally touched. I ached when she was burned over and over but you know, I’ve never met a person that didn’t have scars on their heart. It’s universal. It connects us.

Beating hearts. This world is full of them. I’ve sometimes thought that if I could have a superpower, I’d like the ability to hear other people’s heart beats from a distance. I think of how many times my heart has thudded so heavily that I could hardly hear anything over its thumping in my ears and I wonder if other people’s hearts do that too and to what extent. Like when you see something or meet someone that makes your heart leap around like hyper harlequin, wouldn’t it be comforting to know if other hearts were just as frantic in that moment? I think if our hearts could move like it, they’d respond to situations in the same way dog’s tails do: wagging when happy, hanging when sad, tucking when scared.

I also truly believe that if everyone would stop, even for a split second, and think about how everyone…everyone…has a little beating heart inside their chest that’s capable of being happy and timid and terrified and brave and every shade in between, then maybe we’d be less likely to be so cruel to each other. If we could imagine the uncharted and infinite depths of our potential kindnesses that are hungry to be explored and embraced, then maybe we would actually start to know peace.

I love hearts. I love their complexity, their strength, their sounds, and their endurance. I love that there is fortitude in their vulnerabilities. I love that they have chambers opening and closing and flowing with rich blood because that image is just the coolest scene to imagine. I love that they can be burned, literally and figuratively, and still continue to beat strongly.

Anyway…here’s to continual heart health, y’all. The heart in me honors the heart in you. Badum, badum, badum.

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Sparrows and Silver Linings

In our living room, I’m perched on the couch with a mug of early-afternoon, re-heated coffee in hand. My elbows are resting on the back of the couch and I’m knelt down into the sinking cushions, staring out the front window. Moments ago, I heard a sparrow chirp on the porch and discovered that the small bird was calling to his companion—he’d discovered a house.

For mother’s day earlier this year, King Ranch, Little Foot and I built and painted a birdhouse and since, it’s hung colorfully yet vacantly on our front porch. I realize now that I’ve been sitting here for about a half an hour watching the sparrow couple take turns flying away and returning with twigs and leaves for their new home and with each return of a carefully-picked supply for their nest, I’m tickled a bit more.

Sweet Sparrow

It was only an hour ago or so that the new, adoptive parents of Sue and Maybell (two of my foster donkeys) drove away, the ladies in safe and secure tow, and I’ve spent the better part of that hour both grateful and gloomy. I’d grown attached to those two donkeys, both of them having been in my care since mid-March. No matter how lovely the new home is, (and major shout out to Joel & Anne who will be caring for these two now because y’all are just the kind of loving and enthusiastic home we hope to find for our sweet donkeys) it’s always tough to say goodbye to those who you’ve poured your heart into.

But melancholy as I could continue to be right now, there’s something profound about our newly arrived, feathery neighbors that’s setting my heart at ease—a sort of “two gone, two arrived” situation. Goodbye but then again, hello.

I’ve not much else to say at present except the admittance of struggling with my own self-worth. I’m not trying to be maudlin, but instead trying to be honest and admitting to my weakness as a way to acknowledge it and hopefully work on remedying the negativity that’s gaining momentum in my anxious mind. As a writer, I feel like I’m reaching my fill of letters, both composed and automated, that respond to my queries saying rarely more than what seems like, “Sorry, you’re just not good enough for us.” Sigh.

Here’s the silver lining that I’m trying to remind myself:

Every person who’s tried to become an author has gone through this, so maybe this is just the initiation to buff up that proverbial “thick skin” everyone talks about. Although as I’m typing this, I seem to remember a blog that I wrote a little over a year ago where I was actively trying to understand how someone who struggles so gravely with anxiety like I do could ever, ever be brave in the face of repetitive rejection…

Silver lining continued:

When I was submitting stuff last year and spending way too much time curled in a fetal position asking myself why I can’t just grow up and go back to my old days in a corporate job (how was I more mature in my 20’s than I am now?), it was for a different project and that project did indeed get picked up by Flash Fiction Magazine online and that was awesome. It was worth every rejection to then get the, “Wow, we’re totally into this really weird story” response. [Here’s that story if you’re curious: Behind the Clouds, There are Stars]

What I’m working on now is completely different and a seemingly much loftier goal. So, buck up, right? I’m trying. Really, I am.

Silver lining finalized:

As cliché as it sounds, timing really is everything. When it happens that I find the right person / company to represent my work, it will have been worth the wait to end up in the right hands just as it was worth the wait to have Maybell and Sue for as long as I did until the perfect parents came along to adopt them. Anyone sooner wouldn’t have been right.

Here’s what I do know and I promise, I’m not trying to sound preachy:

Your self-worth and value is not at the hands of anyone or anything else. No one. Nothing. Have I gone on my soapbox in my blog yet about how much it irks me when people refer to their partners as their “better/other halves?” Well, if I have, I’m sorry, but you should never be half of anything. You are whole. Wholly guacamole, you are. And if you’re not? Don’t lean on anyone or anything (not that acceptance letter, not the loss of that 15lbs you’re worried about, not that raise that your dumb boss is keeping from you, not that unfitted or even thriving relationship or whatever) to fill what you think is missing about you. You are whole. You are. Or at least you can be from your inside out, so go exploring internally. No other purchase necessary. Please know that. I think the poem I posted on here the other day, Steady, Steady, Sweet Soul, was me trying to show myself that very concept. 

The sparrows are still building a nest in my little birdhouse out front and it’s ridiculous how much time I’ve sat here watching them when I have so many other things I should be doing. It’s really cool to watch their new beginning, though. Will they have a family in there? Will baby sparrows learn to fly off that perch? I hope so. 

pondering
I do my best thinking with coffee in hand.

Steady, Steady, Sweet Soul

Above soaring, jagged rocks
The world’s weight tugging
Heavily on your bones;
Her mouth open wide and
Ready for an easy meal…

Wind whipping and howling
With voices from deep underground,
Voices that you swore were buried
Beneath stone and time,
Their smokey doubts swirling about…

Above bird songs where
Clouds roll with secrets;
Air streaming thinly through
Your rising and falling lungs
Quickening with the thump thump thump of your heart…

There, plant tightly your tired feet,
Steady your scattered soul,
Reach deep into your gut, raw and rank
And realize the horizon-reaching,
Broader and more complex view within.

Realize that you are riddled with rolling secrets, too
And with beauty beyond written words
With often old voices shaping your moves.
Realize that the universe within you
Is worth beholding, worth admiring,

Worth travelling far and taking risks
To see and feel and inhale deeply into.
Realize that and
You, my love,
You, my friend,
You, my stranger,
You,

Will set your sweet soul free.

Edges

The Value of Donkey and Self

I should start with an apology to my readers for having neglected to keep you all abreast of what’s been happening at our little donkey ranch lately. There are times in life that I swear the gods must be pressing fast-forward on their giant remote in the sky because it seems like only yesterday that I was basking in the afterglow of our successful “Yoga for Donkeys” fundraiser (that story here).

Since then, we’ve acquired a new shipment of adoptable donkeys—10, to be exact—so last week, our total donkey count for the ranch jumped from 3 to 13. Here are some photos of our new arrivals:

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Within this shipment is the largest donkey I’ve so far fostered (Gus) as well as the smallest (Spartan) and between those two are vibrant and far-ranging personalities—from mischievous to debonair to spunky and inquisitive. This Motley Crew of snorting snouts and twitching tails leaves no room for dull moments. Then again, life rarely leaves room for dull moments. As my role in donkey rescue chugs along, so does my ever-evolving role as a mother, partner, yoga-instructor, gardener, daughter and oh yeah…self.

The self.

The self is and should be on your schedule for regular maintenance just like oil-changes and air-filter replacement. The self needs love and attention and like your teeth, needs regular polishing.

I struggle with this. I struggle with taking two steps back and turning my sights inward to ask, “Hey, you doing alright in there?” I do this so infrequently that when I do muster up the strength to take a look inside my heart and mind, my gaze acts more like a needle penetrating the outside of an about-to-burst water balloon, causing violent gushes of pent up emotion to pour out of me and down the streets, white-capping and destroying property.

The self needs itself. The self needs to know it’s loved unconditionally and the self needs to know that it is valuable beyond measure. The self does not increase in value because it makes more money or looks a certain way. The self does not increase in value when it has popularity or followers. The self needs the self to recognize its shared value simply by having been born into this world.

I realized this from spending time with my donkeys—this new crew specifically. Gus, my larger-than life donkey, carries no more value than Spanky, my orphaned ball of fluff who keeps rubbing his face on posts creating a perma-scab likely, because he’s anxious. Tink has no less value than any other donkey just because he has to wear a boot. They are valued simply because they are who they are.

With us (humans) it becomes so convoluted because of things like religion and politics and classism and so on but what I wish we could all do is to just stop and look inside for a moment and ask, “How you doing in there? Like really, how are things?” I get the sense a lot of us would be surprised at what we saw. If we could understand that we all carry worlds within ourselves (and those worlds are, I believe, infinitely valuable and immeasurably capable of love), then concepts like dehumanizing groups of people simply because they’re different wouldn’t exist like they do so frequently throughout our history as a species. How lucky we all could be if we’d stop, polish our insides, and then use our newly-filled cup to serve those who could use a hand.

I hope that you can appreciate how complex you really are—how there’s no way that one word or one concept could ever define you. How you were a child once who dreamed of going on magical quests and that if you think about it, life really is exactly that—a fantastic adventure. Be the hero—the one who saves the day with empathy and love, not with violence and hatred. Who fights for what’s right. Who falls and has two choices: to give up or to muster up the strength that you’ve always had to keep going. Be Gus, the gentle giant. Be Spanky, the fighter who was not expected to survive but now thrives. Be Tink, who wears his boot proudly. Be Bunny, the one who would do anything to ensure that you felt loved.

Be you. Complex, weird, creative, and sensitive you. And when you feel the emptiness begin to creep in, step back. Recharge. Love on yourself. You’ll be back up in no time.

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Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub

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 structure in my future as an aspiring author at all.

Lub-dub, lub-dub, my heart chugs along in my chest. I started this blog shortly after we moved to the ranch as a way to keep in touch with my friends and family back home because I was the unknowing city-girl moving to a small farm up north and shenanigans were surely in store—although it’s morphed over time. Most of my readers are no longer from back home, but are people I’ve connected with along the way through the power of social media (and for those connections, I am truly grateful!). It’s been a way of connecting that I didn’t anticipate and it’s exciting to think of how far it’s come. Yet still, I find myself struggling. Not that there’s been a lack of material in which to document—there’s been the sporadic sighting of the bizarre white rabbit. There’s been stoking of new friendships and plans for a luscious garden. There have been storms, full moons, farrier visits, camping trips and holidays but still, my drafts remain incomplete.

I think this is a perfect time to remind myself that happiness and wholeness does not lie in other things or other people: they come from within. Rejections by others of my evolving craft do not define the limitations in which I’m allowed to write. Rejections by others of the style in which I lead a yoga class do not define the limitations in which I need to teach. I consider criticisms when they’re constructive and self-reflect when pieces don’t fit properly….but I’ve gotten into an epically bad habit of placing my self-worth in the hands of others and that is the best way to feel worthless. Perhaps that’s what’s so wrong with our broken world right now—that we’re trying to desperately seek peace outside without stopping to consider that there might not be peace within ourselves. How can we expect love around us or for us when we don’t know how to love ourselves?

Lub-dub, lub-dub…if you can feel your heart beating, then you’re alive and you’ve got the opportunity to do something. Rejection and feeling exposed means that you’re pushing your boundaries and it’s outside of our comfort zones that growth happens.

It’ll be spring soon enough…that’s when life really starts to grow. In the meantime, here are some cute donkeys.

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