I pulled up, running late from a prior appointment. As I turned toward the barn, I was greeted by the biggest and brightest rainbow I have ever seen. I almost continued on, but at the last minute I stopped to capture a photo. As I parked and rushed to grab my kit out of the car, I noticed the incredible sunset behind me - a glory of cream-and-gold cumulonimbus clouds, lined by the deep grey of rain and the bright blue of the sky behind them.
When I finally made it into the barn, I was greeted by Ben’s big bray. It was dinner time, and the herd hadn’t been fed yet. “Sorry, friend, I don’t have any food to offer, but I do have massage.” Ben seemed to consider, and came to a decision: my terms were acceptable. As I entered his stall and removed his blanket, I apologized for the chill. Although we had officially entered spring, the evening still held onto a bit of winter. I stood with Ben for a heartbeat or two, reminding him that I was sharing his space.
Ben was a fragile old donk who had lived through significant abuse before landing safely at the sanctuary years ago. Because his body was fragile, my touch had to be soft, encouraging small shifts in his posture and soft tissue. Recently, I had started experimenting with small motion, manipulating the skin and surface layers of fascia, a flowy serpentine around his poll and jaw, down his neck, over his shoulder. He soaked it all up, as if his body was a sponge, and my touch the water. Slowly, his fascia and muscles would transform, from being brittle and hard to being soft and yielding. As his tissues softened under my finger tips, the connective tissue slowly melting, I could reach into those deeper aches.
Ben stood there, his lower lip droopy and trembling, his head gently bobbing with relaxation, not quite asleep but not quite awake, either. This time, as I worked on releasing tension and old aches I noticed - really noticed - the signs of old age on his body. Ben’s little weight shifts to try and find a comfortable posture; a tight belly that struggled to absorb nutrition; the loss of muscling, despite large meals and constant roughage. “Oh, buddy,” I thought, “You must be so tired.” As my focus shifted from the skin, fascia, and muscles directly under my fingers to sympathy, I could feel him stir a little. “I’m alive now, dammit. Focus on that. I’ll go when I’m ready, and not a minute sooner.”
Nothing can make you feel chastised quite like donkey wisdom.
The next day, Ben lay down in the warm, dry sand of the arena, his favorite spot. He was ready, and he passed when the moment was right for him, surrounded by his herd and people who loved him. Even after his passing, he continues to provide me with donkey wisdom, lessons to pass along to others.
First, be present in the moment. Anxiety about the future robs us of experiencing any joy in the now.
Second, enthusiastically celebrate the good. How many more opportunities would present themselves if instead of being wrapped in judgement, we accepted the gifts being offered?
Third, trust in yourself. Accept not only the gifts being offered by others; accept the gifts you have to offer. While this last may sound easy, how many times have you thought to yourself, “I’m not good enough” or “If only I were…” There is always room for improvement, of course, but when you accept all you have to offer the world, you reach your fullest potential.
So when you catch yourself in judgement, worried about all that has passed and all that has yet to come, bring yourself back. You’re alive now, dammit; focus on that.