Blessings On The Donkey Work.
published 4th January 2023
(Rest on the Flight into Egypt, 1615-1621, painted by Orazio Gentileschi)
Happy New Year story lovers! I have some gifts here for you!
As we take the first steps into 2023 I am aware of a collective feeling of weariness that myself and people around me seem to carry in our hearts in these times. Asking myself how I can meet this feeling of heaviness and collective 'Low', I found my awareness pulled above the tired family, to the presence of the donkey in the painting above. The donkey was in the nativity scene too, where the child of light was born. The stable being the home for two ‘beasts of burden’ who, like our own hearts, have grown used to hold, carry and pull heavy loads for us humans. Between these two creatures - light is born.
Storytelling is my medicine so I allow my imagination to follow this donkey to other stories of wonder and transformation featuring donkeys. There are so many of them and for some reason donkey stories offer me comfort and I love them all…
Below are some offerings from my time spent with this fine herd. Three short donkey stories will follow, gifts of love for the New Year chosen with the intention to bless a heavy heart with patience and resilience, so it may rise to carry the load and meet the path ahead with love for life!
I warmly invite you to allow yourself some moments after each story to reflect on the gifts it holds for you.
The first story is an inspiration from the wise 12th century Jalal al-Din Rumi.
Once upon a time, a weary traveler came into a village with his faithful donkey companion who was very close to his heart. It was evening, and an innkeeper standing in the street urged the traveler to come and stay the night at his inn, promising a comfortable bed and a delicious meal. The traveler, stroking his donkey with love as he unsaddled it, insisted he first had to find a way to make sure his donkey was well cared for during the night. The innkeeper smiled and promised that taking care of the man’s donkey was included in the price of staying at the inn and that he would personally make sure the donkey would be led to the stable by his assistant. The traveler, reluctant to leave his donkey, explained: “My faithful friend is old and very sensitive, he needs a warm stable to stay in during this cold night to keep his old body comfortable. He is also on a special diet. He will need two buckets full of moist soft grass and fresh flowers to eat and some pure spring water to drink." “We will take care of all your donkey’s needs for you. Leave it with us and come inside”, said the innkeeper. “But my donkey will also need a fresh clean bandage over his left leg as it is sore and bruised.” “Of course sir, my assistant will provide him with one straight away”, said the Innkeeper. "Now please do come inside. But the traveler added: “Who will brush his furry little back before he goes to sleep as it calms him and helps him sleep well...?” “Dear sir, please rest assured that your donkey will receive a very special VIP treatment by my dedicated and professional team”, the innkeeper placed his arm over the traveler’s shoulder and ushered him inside as he left his donkey with the innkeeper’s assistant. That night in his comfortable bed, the traveler was tormented by terrible nightmares. Visions of his donkey cold, starving, lonely and frightened. At last he awoke covered with cold sweat, put on his coat and hastened outside to the stable where he found that his donkey was indeed in a terrible state, without a clean bandage, cold, hungry, thirsty and terrified.
Rumi writes: ‘Do the careful, donkey-tending work. Don’t trust that to anyone else. There are hypocrites who will praise you, but who do not care about the health of your heart-donkey.
Be concentrated and leonine in the hunt for what is your true nourishment. Don’t be distracted by blandishment-noises, of any sort’.* (*This final verse, translated by Coleman Barks can be found in the 'Essential Rumi' where the poem 'After the meditation' inspiring this story can be found) ————---------------
Here is another little tale for you.
Once upon a time at the edge of a dark forest lived a poor old couple, in a tiny poor wooden hut that allowed them just enough room to be able to sleep side by side. One stormy night as the rain pounded on the roof and the wind was howling outside, the couple heard a knock on the door. “Please wife”, said the husband, “you sleep closer to the door, open it and let whoever is out there inside. It is dark and dangerous in the forest and it must be a traveler who has lost his way”. The wife replied: “But we have no space.” The husband chuckled at her words and said: Oh my dear wife, a shortage of space is something you will only find at the richest houses in town. Only the very rich are short of space, but, this is a poor man’s hut. We will create the space!
Don’t you agree with me that if we two manage to lie down and sleep here, then three can easily sit together?Hurry up and open the door.”
The wife opened the door and a very wet traveler came in. He was so grateful for the invitation. As now there was no space to lie down to sleep the three of them sat together and spent the night sharing some good old folktales with each other until suddenly, there was another knock on the door… The old man turned to the guest and said: “You sit closest to the door, open it and let whoever is out there inside. It is dark and dangerous in the forest tonight and it must be another traveler who has lost his way.” But the traveler said: "How can we let another person in? There is no space.” The old man chuckled again and said: “My wife said these very same words just before we welcomed you in. Had I listened to her, she and I now would have both been lying down asleep and God only knows what would have happened to you.” The traveler looked at the old man but did not move. “Open the door”, laughed the old man, “this is a poor man’s hut, and I can reassure you that where three people can sit comfortably, four people can sit tight and even closer. We may not be comfortable but we will create the space! Now open the door!” The traveler reluctantly opened the door of the hut. It was wet and windy and at the door stood another lost traveler who entered with much gratitude. The door was closed again and the four found themselves sitting very very close to each other, their bodies touching, feeling a little awkward…It was just then that another strange knock on the door came, loud and hard it did not seem to be the knock of a human being. The wife and the two guests looked with fear at the old man who was still smiling. They were all afraid he would ask them to open the door again. The old man stood up and said: ”Open the door! I know who is knocking! It is my donkey, my only trusted friend. This humble creature always helps me carry my heavy loads of wood and water, but now he too needs a refuge from the storm. Open the door.” The last guest who had just walked in said: “But this is impossible, there is no way we can all sit in here with a donkey." But the old man replied: “No my friend, this is not a place of impossibility, this It is a poor man’s hut, my hut, and here there is always space! We will make space! Forget about sitting; when my donkey comes in we will all stand against the walls and we will keep the donkey in the middle of us so that he feels warm and loved. He will feel seen and acknowledged, celebrated and welcomed! Now, open the door for my donkey!” The door was opened. The others protested: "This is ridiculous, we would have preferred to get lost in the forest than be trapped in this tiny hut”. But it was too late. In walked the wet donkey dripping big puddles on the floor. The old man led him into the middle of the hut and told all the others to stand around him. He said: "Now, you just pay attention and you will discover for yourselves how my donkey is such an honourable creature. No matter what you do or say to him, he accepts it all with no judgment and always with such a loving manner. And what a great gift to this world is his deep listening."
The last story gift for you is about the famous wise holy fool from the Middle East, Hodjah Nassrudin, whom as you may know, travels through many stories with his faithful and sometimes rebellious donkey. This particular story tells about the painful and difficult time when Nassrudin realised he had lost his donkey. He felt some degree of relief in the knowing that he himself was not on the donkey when it was lost (otherwise he himself might have gone lost too…), but still, he missed his faithful friend very much. He searched for it everywhere but no luck. At last Nassrudin called all his friends and neighbours and announced: “My friends, I declare a great prize to whoever will find my donkey.
Yes, yes, the most wonderful prize to whoever will find my lost donkey.
The prize will be: MY DONKEY!” The Neighbours looked at each other confused: "Did he really say that?" "What does he mean?" At last one person challenged him and said: "Nassrudin, what is the point of you offering your donkey as a prize to someone helping you find it? Have you gone completely mad?" “Not at all dear friends”, answered Nassrudin, "you see, I feel very grateful that I have had my time with my beloved donkey and got to spend many loving years with it...BUT in this life I have found, there are two things that each one of us must learn: The first thing is - you must find what you love! And the second thing is - you must learn to give it away.
*. * * * * I wish to us all a blessed New Year full of love, wonderful discoveries and meaningful stories. In Italy there is a proverb saying: “It is better to ride a donkey that carries you than a horse that throws you.”
2023 here we come... Let's try to enjoy this ride… With love and gratitude, Roi Gal-Or
(Please feel free to share this muse letter with your friends)