HEART-DONKEY TALK

I opened my hard-covered copy of A Year With Rumi, edited by Coleman Barks, to May 16—while taking a tea-break this morning. In the final stanza the words got me Googling.

“because my heart-donkey was strong enough to take you there.”

from “The Lord of Beauty”

I easily found a Sufi story about an old man arriving to an inn after a long day with his favorite donkey and longtime companion. (Plenty of Etsy garb for sale assured me many people already celebrate this tale.)

“Welcome to our humble inn,” a young man greeted. “Let me tend your donkey.”

“But he needs a warm and comfortable place to sleep. If he doesn’t get good rest after such a long day, he will be grumpy,” said the old man.

“No problem. I’m a professional and know what to do,” the young man assured.

“But he needs barley mixed with hay,” said the old man. “And fresh water.”

“No problem,” said the youth. “I will feed him well. Do not worry.”

“The donkey is old and needs the barley first soaked in water,” said the old man.

The youth’s eyes rolled though he turned away so the older man could not see his frustration. “I’ve done this a hundred times. Trust me.”

“He loves a long stroke down his spine. It’s been a long journey,” the old man said and grinned.

“Yes—of course,” the young man replied, annoyed.

The old man gave over the care of his donkey to the younger man.

After removing the saddle and tying the donkey to a post, the young man snicked and soon sat with friends playing cards in a nearby den.

The old man entered the inn and met open arms. He ate a fine dinner and drank wine. But he could not sleep despite silk sheets. When he closed his eyes, visions of his donkey standing tied to a post, hungry and thirsty, pelted his vision. His whole body ached.

He went into the night and found his dear companion tied to a post—as he had feared.

The man knew he should have cared for his donkey himself. He doubted the youth would do as he promised yet handed over the reigns.

The story reminds me of how we can tell each other what we believe others want to hear. We can say “don’t worry” “I’ll do that”—sometimes with good intentions—but fail to follow through.

The story reminds me it’s up to me to listen—to feel—my intuition, my “gut” response. I must take care what matters most to me and can’t expect someone else to do things my way.

I like this story for the friendship. This man values his donkey’s comfort. He values the donkey as companion and as a being who deserves care—a safe and warm place to sleep, food, water, and a kind stroke over his tired back.

The younger man snickers—as if the older man is crazy for loving a donkey, for seeing this worn animal as alive and as vital as himself.

Perhaps the story touches me so deeply as I face my own sadness, wondering what to do next. So many people sleep in tents on the sidewalks of Portland, on patches of grass next to the freeway. In this wealthy country, children are born every day, every hour, and some will be well-nourished—body, mind, soul—and others will cry to be held and die of loneliness.

My friend, Dotti, gave me this book. Some years later she was visiting, and we were driving through the parking lot of Fred Meyer in the small town where I lived.

“Stop!” she said. “There’s a dog running around. He’s going to get hit.”

Her sudden words startled me. I didn’t see the dog—never did see the little runner—but I tried to reverse and help her find him again. At least, that’s what I think I did.

She and her husband deliver blankets and sandwiches to people living on the streets, in tents and without a safe home. Her husband once told me how he got started—after visiting someone around L.A. who was distributing blankets and food to people on the streets. It was a hard time in his life, and he returned to Tacoma and began to do the same. Eventually, many people joined him.

We learn from each other.

It’s a listening beyond the latest News of the Day that is needed. Tending one’s heart-donkey seems the essence. I want to follow what’s deep-felt beyond logic or law-abiding. Some laws are not just. Some actions are legal but cruel and far from “right”.

This Sufi story about the man and his donkey comes from long ago, and it’s taken many hands and hearts to deliver the tale to me today. Thank you all.

Silver Lake, Washington

May 16, 2022

THE LORD OF BEAUTY

The lord of beauty enters the soul
as a man walks into an orchard in spring.

Come into me that way again.
Like a fresh idea in an artist’s mind,
you fashion things before they come into being.

You sweep the floor like the man
who keeps the doorway.

When you brush a form clean,
it becomes what it truly is.

You guard your silence perfectly
like a waterbag that does not leak.

You live where Shams lives,
because your heart-donkey
was strong enough to take you there.

Rumi as translated by Coleman Bark in A Year with Rumi, Daily Readings,2006

Thunderbolts, Tarot Cards, Good Old Friends & The Courage to Sing

It was 2012 when an email landed in my inbox inviting me to attend a weekend workshop, “Dreaming & the Tarot”. My life was in chaos. We were packing up our house in the small town where we’d lived for a decade while remodeling a 1907 Four-Square in Portland.

I’d belonged to a dream group for years, but I’d never held a Tarot card in my hand. I scarcely knew what one was—but I signed up and drove north for the weekend. That weekend away would be respite for my husband, too.

More recently I learned that a college friend had become quite knowledgeable about Tarot and belongs to a Meetup group in the D.C. area. Julia knows the history and classical, symbolic meaning. She can talk extensively about what she sees in any of the 78 cards. I delight in her enthusiasm.  

On New Year’s Day she sent me the 12-card spread she’d laid out for herself that morning. This year she used the OSHO Zen deck, so the cards looked familiar since she had gifted me this same deck during a summer visit. Each Tarot deck is a work of art.

“I want to hear about this,” I texted back, and soon we were voice-to-voice, as Julia described her spread.

I decided to follow her lead: That afternoon I sat at our kitchen table and laid out 12 cards in a clockwise configuration.

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The Artist’s Way: An Organic Booster

bell hooks, a Black American writer, feminist, and a bold voice who sought justice through love died this week. She wrote and taught and insisted her chosen name be kept lower case because the word and book are what matter—not who penned them.

In a 2015 interview with philosopher George Yancy, she said, “I believe wholeheartedly that the only way out of domination is love, and the only way into really being able to connect with others, and to know how to be, is to be participating in every aspect of your life as a sacrament of love.”

The author bell hooks in 1995. Her work, across some 30 books, encompassed literary criticism, children’s fiction, self-help, memoir and poetry.
bell hooks said to live every aspect of life as “a sacrament to love”

I wish I had known her, read all of her books by now, and found a way to attend one of her classes. From a small town in semi-rural Kentucky, she found her way to Stanford. After earning a Ph.D. in English literature from UC, Santa Cruz, she taught at Yale, Oberlin, City College of New York, and eventually made her way back to Kentucky where she taught at small Berea College. They have created the bell hooks Institute—a center for her writing and teaching.

What a generous soul this woman must have been. How does it happens? This spark she felt and lived from a young age grew into a light for the world. She lifted people to move and dance and question.

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Please Don’t Tell Me What You Think I Want to Hear

And a bit about Ear Wax & Optic Nerves

Last Friday I met my new ophthalmologist at Kaiser Interstate, a 24-minute walk from my home in northeast Portland. Dr. G explained with calm enthusiasm why they want to check my optic nerve so often.

Out & about

I’ve understood the basics—damage done from radiation and the tumor removed when I was 6 years old. He explained: Forty percent of the optic nerve is thin which leaves sixty percent healthy.

“We watch because this is how glaucoma looks. So far we find no significant change,” he said. I appreciated his candid words.

From this refreshing conversation, I ambled to the South building, Nurse Treatment—now a part of Urgent Care in the Kaiser system—hoping to get an ear wash that would clear the wax-buildup that was driving me crazy. I never seemed to get all of it out on my own.

They couldn’t get me in—which I hadn’t expected. I began making an appointment when the kind man behind the plexiglass suggested, “Come back tomorrow—or Sunday morning—and they’ll slip you in at Urgent Care.”

So, I took his encouragement as a sign to forgo making an appointment.

Meanwhile, a woman had approached the counter to check in for her scheduled appointment.

“What the f#! *!” she railed at the receptionist. “I made this appointment two weeks ago, and now I have to wait 40 minutes!?!”

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Poetry Pals Reading Group: After 15 Months Together

Long before lockdown and a raging pandemic, I wanted to invite a Poetry Reading Circle. So seldom did I finish an entire collection. With others, I’d be motivated! It seemed a fun way to gather with people I like.

Our reads–May 2020-August 2021!

One morning last April, I sent the invite. A bit disappointed at first because my “local” friends offered scant reply, I reached out to three old friends on the East Coast: Within 15 minutes, two of them replied enthusiastically.

Yippee! We were set to begin! Four wild reading women felt like plenty for our virtual gathering!

We first read Indigo by Ellen Bass. Julie, my co-conspirator in Portland, chose our second month’s read: Paige Lewis’ debut, Space Struck. As months passed, other women joined us. Some stayed, others were swept away by life’s obligations.

By May of 2021, a year later and most of us vaccinated, one of the East Coast originals—Stacey—suggested we pause for a Retrospective.

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