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

 

 

 

Yoga for Donkeys

Last week, I hosted an event to raise money for the charity in which I volunteer to help save donkeys. I considered the potential to serve a greater good by combining two of my very favorite things: yoga and donkey rescue. The result was an overwhelming success where not only was money raised to help save donkeys, but so was awareness of the issues facing donkeys and why it’s important that we give them a voice. I led a short and somewhat unconventional yoga class beneath a clear sky as the stars and my donkeys watched curiously.

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{Here, I’m saying, “look at the stars!!”}

Of course, the donkeys didn’t stay idle for very long before deciding to join the yoga class.

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Yoga and Donkeys: It was a marriage of two worlds I’d not previously imagined but somehow, it all came together—and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, one of the common themes in this entire blog that’s been going on for nearly two years is how much the relationship I’ve built with my donkeys has helped me manage my anxiety. Yoga is also an essential tool in my anxiety management box and so I suppose the connection was merely a matter of time.

That’s not to say I haven’t done a bit of my own yoga practice from time to time out in the pasture with my donkeys around, but I guess I was particularly touched with just how many people were eager to participate in the event. Most of the participants had never spent any time with donkeys but suffice to say that everyone left that night with a little hoof-print on their heart.

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It was a strange yet magical night—increasingly chilly as the night aged, but as we mingled with each other and with the donkeys, self-perpetuated warmth grew just as quickly. It was a gathering of huge hearts that thudded within the chests of admirable and generous folks and I’ve spent the days following this event baffled over how I managed to become so lucky in life that I was given the opportunity to do something like this: teach yoga to save donkeys all in the company of the very best people. I well up just typing that.

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I realized that night that I never tire of talking donkeys. I could go on for an eternity looking for the words that would chart the depth of their existence but honestly it goes so deep I reckon I’ll never see the bottom. Even better was that the people who spent that evening with me under the stars wanted to know everything about donkeys and wanted to touch them and look into their eyes the same way I do—the same way I wish we all could because your life is never really the same after you’ve seen the soul of a donkey. And if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, then go look again—their worlds are infinite and peek out in little sparks around their eyes when you look just right.

Thank you so much, from the bottom of my bleeding heart, to all of you who have donated your time and your money to help save donkeys. They are beings worth fighting for because the obstacles they face are dire. Donkeys are being slaughtered by the millions across the globe for their hides (you can read more about that issue here: Under the Skin – Donkeys at Risk) and before it’s too late, we must speak out.

If you’d like to donate to the cause, please feel free to visit this page for more information.

And finally, special shoutout to Lambert Photography for snapping pics in such a unique environment 🙂

The light in me honors and loves the light in all of you—that same light that we all share that peers down from the sky at night, that winks from the eyes of animals, that seeps from your skin and tingles when it feels seen. It’s the light that’s fueled by adventure and risk-taking but also shines just as brightly when there are no words but simply still contemplation of the stars above. That light in me salutes that light in you. NamasBRAY.

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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.

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Cold Coffee and Gray Skies: A Morning Meditation on Togetherness

I relaxed my back against the coolness of the wrought-iron chair in which I’d been sitting and leaning forward for the past half-hour while pulling my smudged glasses from my face. On the desk in front of me, I closed the large, three-ring binder that is packed full of printouts of guided meditations that I use in my yoga classes from time to time. I moved it to the floor and picked up my cup of coffee that no longer steamed.

The sun was only barely beginning to rise outside the small window to my left. It was a gray sunrise behind heavily hanging, weather-changing clouds that are bringing a cold-front our way. Bowie, our youngest rooster, crowed twice. I know his crow from the others—it’s softer and shorter. It’s not very confident compared to the others. I suppose he’s still trying to find his voice.

Also on my desk was our county’s newspaper that gets delivered to us weekly by mail, folded into quarters and the side that faced up had two advertisements on it. The first had a headline that read, “Choose to Change Lives” and the second, a headline that read, “Every Abused or Neglected Child Needs a Caring, Consistent Adult to Advocate for His or Her Well-Being.” I sipped my cool coffee.

The night before this, I’d gone out to remove our newest donkey, Tink’s, prosthetic boot and wrapped gauze. His wound is healing, but still needs time to air out at night when he’s less active. Oxygen, indeed, is the greatest healer. After I removed his boot and unwrapped the gauze, I sat down in the dirt next to him and rubbed his wounded leg. I pressed my thumbs firmly around his joints and ran my fingers up and down the muscles between them. When I do this, he softens his eyes and lowers his head: a signal to me that it feels pleasant. Oddly enough, that’s what my guided meditation was about this morning: equanimity between pleasantness, unpleasantness and neutrality. It spoke to the fact that we often cling to pleasantness, condemn unpleasantness, and space-out during neutrality and in that, we miss out. We let moments pass us by. We live based on experience and not based on the present.

Donkeys do this, too, I think. They can often seem to cling to experience to protect themselves.

The wind whipped around the sides of the shed last night as I sat, massaging TInk’s leg. I could see the black clouds unfolding and collapsing as my two remaining adoptable donkeys, Fireball and Fluff, cautiously wandered into the shed, their heads low. These two donkeys are very shy and although I have no concrete information, I get the sense there’s pain in their respective backgrounds. I continued to massage Tink’s swollen leg, humming my favorite James Taylor song (Close Your Eyes) when Fluff took two more steps closer to me. I continued to softly sing and he took one more step to where now, he could reach my face with his nose.

I turned my nose to his and he exhaled twice. So did I.

Behind him, Fireball stood timidly and with his eyes wide. Fluff took two more steps towards me, his neck and head above me now, and rested his chin on the top of my head. Under the pressure, I continued to hum.

Tink lowered his leg and leaned his weight into my side and I started to struggle beneath the weight of both Fluff and Tink but I didn’t want to move. I didn’t want them to snap back into experience. I wanted, so badly, for them to be in this moment with me experiencing trust.

Being at the bottom of a two-donkey pile, I hadn’t noticed that somewhere during this time, Fireball was no longer in my line of sight when suddenly, from behind me, I felt an exhale rush past my ear. I exhaled, too and he didn’t run away. Baby steps.

I placed my cool cup of coffee back down on the desk and looked at the headlines of our county newspaper again. I wondered what other people thought when they saw these headlines about changing lives and advocating for abused of neglected children. I wondered at all why someone would ever abuse or neglect a child. I began to feel very upset, thinking even of my own Little Foot and how I could never, ever imagine hurting him and as I did this, I pushed the newspaper away and looked back out the window.

But in that moment, I condemned and pushed away unpleasantness, just like the meditation said and I got to wondering, how different would our world be if instead of running away from the bad, we all worked together to “Choose to Change Lives”? To, instead of moving based on our experiences, moved in the present? Together?

I’ll admit, I don’t always trust or know what I believe. I simply think too much. But what I do know is that we all belong to one another—human and animal alike. It is our responsibility to care deeply for one another—to not push away the unpleasantness because we’re scared but to instead, pick each other up even when it hurts or the pressure is too high. It’s our responsibility to not turn a blind eye because we don’t like it or to space out because we don’t get it. We need each other. All of us.

All of this easier said than done, of course. But I think it’s worth trying…especially if it means that someone might feel safer or more loved.

The sun was up now, although the light trickling in was cool and gray. The few, remaining leaves in the trees twinkled in the wind and once more, Bowie crowed. I’d be heading out soon to re-wrap Tink’s little hoof and put his boot on and I’d probably brush him and the other two donkeys if they’d let me. I would go to the other paddock and spend time with Bunny and Tee who need to be reminded that I love them unconditionally, too. I’d come in after that and make breakfast for Little Foot and hold him in my lap while he drinks his milk. We’d probably read a book, too. I’d call King Ranch to tell him I love him and that I hope he has a good day at work and then I’d probably call my mom just to see how she’s doing.

We belong to each other. All of us, big and small, rich and poor, strong and weak. We can choose to change lives. We can advocate for one another. We should.

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So…Why Donkeys?

For the first time in almost two months, small, struggling raindrops splat onto the dirty windshield of my truck as I traveled down the long, dark, two-lane spur that leads back to my town. Momentarily, I forgot which lever controlled the windshield wipers (probably due to lack of use) so after fumbling with the blinker and then the washer fluid, I finally got the wipers going—their blades spreading dirty dampness in rainbow shapes across the windshield.

Welcome as the rain was to our roasted lawns, this particular night was poorly timed because on this night, the peak showing of the Perseid meteor shower was happening with the possibility of seeing an impressive seven to eight falling stars per minute. King Ranch and I had been anxiously awaiting the opportunity to post up in our backyard, lean back in lawn chairs with potent beverages, and see who could spot the most streaks in the sky. But alas, the insulation of thick, gray clouds fully blocked the potential for even a fluke sighting. Maybe we would just settle in on the couch, turn on an episode of Louis C.K.’s show, Louie, and still indulge ourselves with a drink or three.

I was driving home later than I’d originally planned from an evening staff meeting at the studio where I teach yoga. As a group, we (the staff) took individual DiSC assessments to determine our personality traits, strengths and weaknesses in an attempt to more effectively carry out our studio’s mission and to better understand one another in an effort to maintain harmony among all the employees. The results of my assessment were not too far off from my predictions which was a bit disappointing because I’d hoped to be surprised. It was revealed that I am, in fact, a C/S—one who is calm and avoids conflict and generally prefers to avoid too many social engagements. When faced with stress, “…Cs/Sc’s will over-analyze or withdraw, and may even stop talking altogether. Their generally calm and rational approach to their work—coupled with their non-assertive style—makes them appear detached, or potentially passive aggressive.” (Crystal Project 2016).

Chuckling uncomfortably to myself, I realized that of all the people in attendance at the meeting, I was surely the only one still travelling home because I lived the farthest distance away and by far from the studio: I’ve geographically separated myself from others.

I suppose I like it this way—being far. I like the ability to detach when I need to recharge. I like being around people for a short while and then retreating to the safety of my acreage and donkeys. However, loneliness does creep up on me from time to time…usually once Little Foot is napping, King Ranch is at work, and the donkeys are feeling particularly anti-social. It’s as if I haven’t struck the right balance between detachment and engagement with others. I’m easily overwhelmed by interaction, but start to crave it pretty quickly when it’s gone.

As I entered my town, there wasn’t enough rain falling to wash away the dirty trails that my windshield wipers left across the glass which made it difficult to see the road, so I ran my washer fluid a few times to clear the view. Those drops which had been falling were now reduced to a mist that scattered around in the beams of my headlights like small, aimlessly darting gnats.

I thought of these confirmed traits of mine: overly analytical, withdrawing, non-assertive etc, as I arrived outside of my property and was feeling rather vulnerable about it. I knew these things about me but now, everyone else did. Is that a bad thing though? By the time I pulled up, the rain was no more than a thick, floating humidity that fogged the car windows as well as the lenses in my glasses. As a yoga instructor, I speak so often about the importance of connection with one’s self as well as the connection to others, yet, as a human wandering around out there in the world, I usually feel quite disconnected from everything, myself included. Maybe it’s the overly analytical part of my mind, but I feel like I am in constant search for connection—even if it’s just a connection to understanding. Is it normal to feel like I just don’t get it? It meaning anything?

I pulled the glasses off my face to clear the lenses of fog as I stepped out of the truck to open the gate. As I did so, Bunny and Tee lifted their heads from grazing in the front paddock, watching me intently with their ears pointed up and their jaws still slowly chewing. They really do watch everything. With the gate open, I climbed back into the truck, released the brake, and squeaked up the gravel driveway as dots of dew danced around in the beam of the headlights.

After turning off the engine, I stepped out of the truck and noticed that Bunny had hung her head over the fence that lines our driveway, so despite the dampness, I walked to her and placed my hand between her eyes. She lifted her soft nose up and down and laid her ears back. C/Ss are (according to a DiSC Insights blog I found online here) stable and friendly. They don’t handle change very well, or at least not quickly. They’re sympathetic, avoid conflict, and they fear loss of security. They should be handled with care and will likely recoil if met with aggression, strong tones or body language, or pushy personalities. That assessment, I thought, really pinpointed me.

I ran my hand up and down Bunny’s snout as I considered all of this in thought patterns that resembled a complicated roller coaster—the images of my traits running up and down and ’round and ’round, faster than I could hardly keep up with when it hit me that oh my goodness, donkeys are C/S personalities too.

The roller coaster ride in my mind stopped abruptly and I stared into Bunny’s big, brown eyes. In my shift, she widened her eyes and her ears shot straight back up. Her tail flicked and Tee came trotting  over from across the dark, damp paddock.

Donkeys are kind, sympathetic, overly analytical, slow to adjust to change, reliant, dependable, and typically avoid conflicts. They need to be handled with extreme care, especially those who have been through a lot. They are loyal to a fault but will shut down if threatened. Oh my goodness. They’re just like me. Overthinking, anxious, kind, thoughtful, self-conscious, non-assertive, people pleaser ME.

I was suddenly very anxious in this discovery—as if somehow, I’d just discovered the glowing and priceless key that unlocks the secrets to the entire universe. I scrambled around the garage to the gate which leads into the pasture and there, Bunny and Tee met me with warm exhales and wide, welcoming eyes.

I dropped to a knee and placed a hand on each of their jaws, pulling their noses in close to my face. I’m sure they wondered what on Earth was happening but they didn’t resist or recoil. They didn’t resist because in typical C/S fashion, “they enjoy people, but prefer individuals and groups that they trust and feel comfortable around.” (DiSC Insight Blog 2016). They were being kind and patient. I laughed out loud as I realized this and from the back parts of the property, two of my foster donkeys brayed loudly, causing Bunny and Tee to reciprocate by calling back. I leapt to my feet and by now, the rain was no more than a heavy dampness—like a warm washcloth wrapped around absolutely everything. I ran as fast as I could in my saturated converse tennis shoes to the gate that separates the foster donkeys from my own and there they all were waiting, ears pointed up towards the gray sky.

They all watched me wide-eyed and I know why: they felt my excitement and my vulnerability from feeling so seen because donkeys feel what those around them are feeling. They’re natural care-givers and highly intuitive. After patting Bunny and Tee on the nose (assuring them that they still are and will always be my favorite), I unlocked the gate to the paddock with the fosters and latched it behind me as all five of them circled around me. I could have sworn that they smiled—at least it felt like it. I know I was. Like a big dummy, I smiled.

I’d never felt so seen. I’d never felt so understood. I’d figured out the answer to that confusing and complex question that I’ve been asked by so many and in so many different ways and have never properly known how to answer…that question: “Why donkeys?”

Why donkeys? Why? I know now.

Because they get me…and I get them.

Why donkeys? We see the world and react to it in the very same way. Their thoughtfulness, sensitivity, need for space yet need for engagement, overly-analytical minds: I get it now.

Why donkeys? Because we are the very same.

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Life and Death, Again. I Guess That’s the Way of Things.

It wouldn’t rain. My goodness, had it been trying to, but it just would not rain. The thing about late, Texas spring is that when the sky tries to rain, but can’t, we’re all left wandering through soupy, walking-through-a-warm-wash-cloth air that gets trapped around the middle of the rib-cage when you inhale. For those of us who wear glasses regularly, you can expect that they will fog up much like a car windshield does if rain has gotten into it.

Still, the property, the garden, the chickens, and the donkeys all needed tending to, so I slipped my feet into my work boots, grabbed the cowboy hat that King Ranch and I share, and headed into the yard. Over my shoulder, I had a red, 100 foot extension cord needed to power the tiller for the garden. In my back, right pocket, I had my yellow gardening gloves and in the back, left pocket, my phone. I keep it handy because, as many of us 80’s kids entering our 30’s do these days, I take pictures of my activities and post them on various social media sites to link up with other enthusiasts.

This is an introvert’s dream — social media. It’s connection without obligation. People have a lot of negative things to say about these social platforms and although I agree that we should all be careful in the kind of information we’re sharing as well as be careful with our time, I guess I don’t think we need to feel bad about using it as a way to connect. As long as you’re still getting outside and living life away from screens, I say, utilize the interwebs as you please. Just be smart and don’t become dependent.

Little Foot was in a hiking pack specific for babies and toddlers that I wore like a backpack and it made sweat pool along my spine — it ran down and collected at the waist of my jeans. He likes it though — riding in the hiking pack while I work around the yard. He even naps sometimes.

I’d opened up the well house to retrieve the tiller and a rake in order to start tidying the garden, when from out of the corner of my eye, I saw a few streaks of black move across the cloudy, heavy sky. Leaning the tiller back against the inside wall of the well house, I turned to see somewhere between 8 and 10 large birds circling the back parts of the property. I thought they could have been vultures, but I wasn’t sure. They circled like vultures do.

I stood there for a moment, watching the swirl of birds criss-cross back and forth over something that was clearly on my property, every once and awhile, diving down and then swooping back up. The donkeys were okay; they stood just on the other side of the fence from Little Foot and me curious, I’m sure, to know if we had carrots — which I did, in the front, left pocket of my jeans. I had planned on giving them to the donkeys when I was done with the garden and headed out to the rest of the property to mow.  

Once, about 6 months ago, I was out on the property and I found two vertebrae. I think they must have belonged to a cow or other large animal because they were about as big around as my fist. My only thought is that vultures dropped them there. We have a lot of them around here. Here’s a picture I snapped a while back of what I assume is their relaxing time:

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I closed the door to the well house and adjusted Little Foot’s pack on my back as I headed out into the pasture. The donkeys greeted me enthusiastically and nosed at my hips, probably, because they smelled the carrots in my pocket. I pulled out a few for them and continued walking to where the large birds were circling.

A few of the birds floated higher as two dove down quickly without soaring back up. This made me nervous. Then, one after another, they dove down. Every few seconds, one of the massive birds would dart into the sky, but then gracefully glide back down. I really don’t know how many there were.

My glasses kept fogging up, so I placed them up on the brim of my cowboy hat but of course, this made everything look like an impressionist painting. I had the thought that I really should finally call the optometrist and get a new prescription for contacts.

As I approached the back paddock, from behind me, Bunny let out a loud bray and shortly after, Tee squealed in his loose-timing-belt sounding bray. They were indicating to me that I should be careful. In my blurred vision, I could see the collection of birds swarmed around something, although I had no idea what. I’d seen some rabbits on the property recently and wondered if it could have been one of them.

I wasn’t sure if I should be worried — would vultures (if indeed they were vultures) attack Little Foot and I? As far as I knew, birds were pretty scared of humans. Still, the fact that Bunny and Tee brayed nervously was enough to make me halt and keep distance.

I pulled the glasses off the brim of my hat, cleared the fog from the lenses with the bottom of my shirt, and pressed them onto my face. There were seven of them, and most definitely vultures. They had bald heads and black feathers and were frantic in their consuming of, whatever it was. I found myself becoming angry that this carnage was happening on my land, but was nervous to get closer because still, I wasn’t sure if vultures could be violent to us.

In the front, right pocket of my jeans, I’d had a small spade in case I had any digging to do in the garden. The handle was shoved down into my pocket and the actual scooping part of it was sticking up. I pulled the spade from my pocket and threw it as hard and far as I could at the pack of feasting birds while screaming, “blllaaarrrrghhh!!!” I’ve got a pretty good arm — I did, after all, play 3 years of little league softball from ages 9 to somewhere between 11 and 12.

All but two of the massive birds scattered away without a sound but wing flapping, so I felt safer to take a few more steps forward. Plus, Bunny and Tyrion were three or four steps behind me, so I felt safe within their protective proximity.

It was then that I noticed what the birds had: the smaller of the two birds, although, not smaller by much, reached down with it’s nude beak and grabbed hold of something that it then stretched up and I immediately knew that it was the rubber-band texture of lean muscle. The pinkish, red bit snapped and dangled from the bird’s beak before the thing gobbled it up with only a few gulps. The other bird, pecked a few times and lifted the creature up to flip it.

It was a squirrel. A light brown squirrel.

One by one, the other birds landed cautiously, although they kept an eye on the donkeys, Little Foot, and me between pecks at the squirrel.

Little Foot said, “huh, huuuu” which, to him, means donkey. When King Ranch or I ask Little foot, “what does a donkey say?” — “hu huuu” is his response.

Both donkeys were only a step behind me with their ears straight up. They watched the birds like I did, curiously and cautiously.

I turned back towards the garden and decided I’d come back later for my spade. I didn’t want Little Foot to figure out that he was seeing creature consumption. I also worried that this was one of the squirrels that lived in the pecan tree in our backyard — one of the squirrels that constantly drives our dog, Tucker, crazy in the mornings.

Back in the garden, I tilled and pulled the larger weeds by hand. I also thought about the squirrel and wondered how it must have died. Or maybe the vultures killed it. I don’t know. What I did know was that I was angry. I was angry that a gang of big birds chose to spend their afternoon tearing apart the little guy. Surely, there was some larger carcass elsewhere that they could have fought over — but instead, they fought over a squirrel. A helpless squirrel.

As I pulled a few onions out of the ground, careful not to disturb the ones not quite ready around them, I realized I was crying. But I guess birds need to eat, too, right? Still, I couldn’t help feeling sorrow for that squirrel. What a way to go.

I noticed, then, that my poblano pepper plant had finally popped out some peppers after weeks of only flowering. They were still very small, but a deep, forest green and shiny. Life. It was sprouting life.

This made me so proud. Until I lived here at the ranch, I’d never had a garden. Of course, I’d never had a toddler or donkeys or chickens either. And all in one season, I’ve had tomatoes and peppers and onions and lettuce grow as well as a new chick hatch and become part of the flock.

Life and death. All here. Life and death.

The beginning and the end. And we’re lucky enough to be in the middle somewhere.

It’s a powerful thing: being in the middle. This is where we get to do something. Where we get to be someone. Where we get to stand up for what’s right. That doesn’t mean we have to understand everything, but we can be kind. We can appreciate that which is unfolding in front of us.

There is so much more than us. It’s right there — all of it. A whole world. Life and death and everything in between. How badass that we get the privilege of being in between right now.

Cherish it.

Do You Believe in Magic?

It’s approaching 1 in the morning and I still can’t sleep. This pillow is all wrong. I sleep with it every night but for some reason right now, it feels foreign – like I’m back in college sleeping on someone’s futon and they’ve tossed me a couch cushion in lieu of a proper pillow.

Little Foot woke up an hour ago. Luckily I managed to get him back to sleep pretty quickly. He’s been doing this thing lately, where if I just hold one of his hands in mine for 10 or so minutes, he falls back asleep. It’s adorable. He holds my hand to fall asleep. It’s a habit I should probably be concerned with breaking soon but…I love it.

King Ranch is sleeping, but is tossing and turning more than usual. I’m worried that it’s me keeping him awake, so I slide out of bed and wrap up in my robe.

In the living room, we’ve left a lamp on near the front door with a low-watt bulb that makes everything amber. It’s so quiet and in this dim light, so cozy. I bundle into a throw blanket and plop down on the couch. The cushions are cool from being empty for several hours.

I relax my shoulders and my face.

Has that clock on the wall always ticked so loudly?

I bury my head under the blanket.

Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.

I can’t take it anymore, so I throw the blanket on the floor and walk into the kitchen while adjusting my robe a little tighter around my waist.

Not entirely sure what I’m looking for, I open the fridge. Leftover stir fry in a red-topped Tupperware. A bag of oranges. A half-eaten container of Little Foot’s sweet potato baby food. Many, many condiments.

Carrots.

I take four carrots out of the bag and head into the utility room. Still barefoot, I pull on my mud boots and slip on King Ranch’s green jacket that is hanging by the backdoor. Back in the living room, I hear the jingling of Thing One’s collar as I open our back door. Every door creaks in this house.

“You coming?” I ask, holding the screen door open. Thing One scrambles outside as I softly close the door behind me.

It’s chilly outside, but only because of the wind. We’ve had a bit of a warm front here at the end of January, which isn’t uncommon for Texas winters. The chimes on our patio are ringing hauntingly as they clang their low-belly song.

Above me is a blanket of stars. From horizon to horizon there are twinkling stars of every shape and color. Interesting that you can only see the sparkling of stars when it’s otherwise completely dark. Magic.

I unlatch the lock on the gate that leads into the pasture while making a clicking sound with the back of my tongue and scanning the pasture for movement as best I can without wearing my glasses. I’m still not entirely sure where the donkeys sleep or if they even have a designated spot.

By the back-house, I notice a slow moving shadow and then the yellow reflection of one giant eye. There she is.

“Come here, little girl,” I whisper loudly. I hear a snort and can finally see Bunny’s shape emerge from the shadows. Not far behind her is Tyrion.

The donkeys slowly saunter up to me, their eyes wide with curiosity. I pull the carrots out of King Ranch’s jacket pocket and snap them in all in half. Alternating between Bunny and Tee based on the loudness of their crunching, I give them a piece of carrot at a time. The nose each other to try and get in the way of one another.

“It’s all gone,” I say. Bunny and Tee continue to sniff my hands. I’m wishing I’d brought out more carrots.

Tee snorts and moves past me a bit to graze on a patch of grass. Bunny stays with me and leans all of her weight into my side.

Squatting down, I put a hand on either side of her jaw and scratch.

I’d do anything to keep her healthy and safe. Bunny and Tee. I don’t need anything in return. I don’t want anything in return. I just want to spend time with them. Take care of them. I’m briefly angry at Bunny’s previous owner for leaving her behind without any of her companions, but then I’m immediately grateful that she gets to be a part of our family now. Darkness turned light, I suppose.

I think of this family: King Ranch and Little Foot sleeping inside. These donkeys. Thing One sniffing around the yard. Even our flock of chickens – I just want them all to be healthy and happy. I just want them all to sleep at night knowing that not only will the sun come up tomorrow, but when it does, it will be on a day that will in one way or another, be filled with wonder.

After all, we are floating in space on a blue and green planet, circling a massive ball of fire and gas. The air we breathe is thanks to the trees that grow. The Earth we walk on is thanks to the gravity that keeps us grounded. Seems like magic.

I’m still squatting down in front of Bunny who is resting her head on my shoulder. I start humming something. She begins to sway, and I with her. Tyrion wanders back over and rests his head in my lap.

The warmth from their heavy exhales is enough to cancel out the chilly breeze. It’s almost too warm. Their heads are heavy on me, but I don’t care. I love it. All of it.

I just want them to feel safe.

After a while, I realize I’ve lost feeling in my feet from crouching down, so I slowly stand up, a hand on each donkey. They keep leaning their weight into me. I decide to stay outside for just a little while longer.

The breeze is cool on my face. The stars, a twinkling symphony. The chimes are distantly ringing.

Magic.

Back inside, King Ranch and Little Foot are still sleeping. I sit in the chair in Little Foot’s room for a while listening to him breathe. I’m remembering what it felt like when I was pregnant with him and I couldn’t sleep. He’d wiggle and flail and I’d sit up and chat with him in the dim middle-of-the-night light. I wondered what he’d be like. Now, there he is – breathing the same air as us.

I never really go back to sleep on this night – and I’m not upset about it.

It’s two days later and I’ve just finished teaching a yoga class in town. I’ve been at this particular studio long enough to expect a host of usual suspects in my classes on normal days…

…I’ve actually been stuck at this sentence for a while now trying to find a way to describe how it feels to teach a yoga class.

At the risk of sounding ambiguous, it’s other-worldly. I find so much joy in being able to provide a space where people can just be. From my own experiences, I know the weight of the world can seem so heavy sometimes. We all experience that in our own ways. We all have more responsibilities than should ever be humanly possible. We all have scars. We are all held to standards and expectations set by sources other than ourselves. It’s why we’re anxious and self conscious and critical of every little thing about ourselves – because the world has made us that way.

So for an hour at a time at the studio, I do everything I can to slow down life for just a bit. I want so badly for my students to be able to see their beauty and their worth. And then I want them to be able to carry that around with them. I want them to look at themselves and be proud. I want them to feel loved.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that to teach yoga is an honor. It’s an honor to have the opportunity to try and connect with people when they’re at their most vulnerable. Physically and mentally, yoga is quite outside the norm by today’s standards. So it’s truly an honor to facilitate that hopeful process.

As I’m leaving the studio, fully ready to return to my normal life, I am, out of nowhere, reminded of this quote by Roald Dahl:

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”

Then it hits me – Love is magic.

If you don’t believe in magic, you’ll never find it. If you don’t believe in love, you’ll never find it.

Love is what I have for these members at the studio. It’s what I’m trying to pour out of myself as I lead these yoga classes where I don’t care if they can touch their toes or not. I just want them to feel loved. Love is these members putting trust in me to let their walls down. Love is them, in some cases for the first time, being purely themselves – and being proud of that. Love is what they’re sending back to me and why I’ve been having a hard time describing the experience.

Love is what brought Little Foot into existence. Love is what keeps King Ranch and I together. Love is Thing One trying to protect us from what he perceives as threats to our family. Love is Bunny and Tee swaying with me in the middle of the night – and me wanting them to never, ever be abandoned again.

Love must be those feelings of protective mom and wife I get when it comes to Little Foot and King Ranch and truly having no boundaries or lines for what I would do to keep them safe and healthy. I’ve talked about it before – how I’d fight the masses and infiltrate the mob. Hell hath no fury like a loving wife and mother.

As I’m leaving this studio today, I am feeling loved. I am feeling so magically loved.

King Ranch. Little Foot. Thing One. Bunny. Tyrion. All of the staff and members of this studio. I am feeling so utterly and unconditionally loved.

Love. It’s magic. Open your glittering eyes and look for it. It’s out there – in its purest form, it’s out there.