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Thursday, March 18, 2010

How To Paint a Donkey

Poem by Naomi Shihab Nye

She said the head was too large,
the hooves too small.
I could clean my paintbrush
but I couldn’t get rid of that voice.
While they watched,
I crumpled him,
let his blue body stain my hand,
I cried when he hit the can.
She smiled. I could try again.
Maybe this is what I unfold in the dark,
deciding for the rest of my life,
that donkey was just the right size.

I heard this poem for the first time this past weekend at the art retreat i was lucky enough to be a part of.  When the teacher read it, my heart got all soft and open and my eyes filled with tears.  The second time i read it, just a few moments ago, every part of me felt the words, and right there in my kitchen, in the middle of the afternoon, i sobbed.

There is something about this poem that reaches way down deep inside of me.  It makes me want to sweep up that little one, cradle her in my arms and somehow make her understand how "it" has nothing to do with the size of the donkey's head or hooves.  And everything to do with how her heart feels inside.  And how it felt inside while she painted that sweet blue, just right, donkey.  I want her to understand that it has nothing to do with whether someone likes her painting or not.  And everything to do with following her joy-always. 

I want to tell her that she will go her whole life trying to prove her goodness, and she will never feel enough, as long as she is trying to find  "it" outside of herself--whether in a painting, a job, money, a lover, a person's response/approval, etc...  It will be a roller coaster ride of emotions. Heartbreak, bliss and everything in between.  She will feel good and proud if someone approves, small and ashamed if they do not. 

I see that this little girl was me.  I see that i spent years of my life trying to prove my worth, trying to make a "better donkey."  Comparing my donkey with theirs and thinking i didn't measure up.  Thinking "they" had the talent and i didn't.   That they were the smart ones, the athletic ones, the artistic ones.  And on and on and on.  So many boxes, so many limitations.

And i see so many other beautiful souls around me doing the same. 

I also see that there are gifts in all of it, the light and the dark.  And that there was never anything whatsoever to prove; that was my mind talking not my heart.  My mind compares and criticizes. My heart loves and inspires.  My mind diminishes and doubts.  My heart dreams and knows.

It is clear to me now that i simply (and not so simply) need to remember that i already know how, that i am already good enough.  And to trust that all the answers are inside of me, i just need to quiet down and tune in to hear them.
I think we're all a little tired of trying to paint the perfect donkey. 

Of comparing ours to theirs.  Of trying to be instead of simply BEing.  What a relief it is to know that we have only to paint our own precious, beautiful, unique, just right donkey. 

No limitations.  No boxes.  No needing to be perfect

And that if we slow down and listen to our heart, it will show us how. 


  1. Julia, I have chills. I cannot tell you how happy I am to be visiting your blog. You spoke directly to what I have been thinking for days. And I didn't even go to that fabulous workshop. You are a great writer. I totally realte.

  2. This is an amazing poem and post. Thanks for sharing your amazing journey. You are a shining one!

  3. We all need to hear this, I wish it could be shouted from the roof- tops! Thank you for this beautiful reminder...

    "My mind compares and criticizes. My heart loves and inspires. My mind diminishes and doubts. My heart dreams and knows."

    Four short sentences which truly get to the heart of what is.

  4. two of my favorite poets on one page!

    this is the silly struggle, isn't it. sadder still when someone doesn't even try to paint the donkey. maybe what we need to remember is that there is room for all interpretations of what a donkey might be.

    it's interesting to me that she uses the image of a donkey in her poem. that was the name that many husbands gave their wives in the english as a second language classes that i taught. they were fearful that these women would learn more than them, possibly make more money, and/or leave them. that one word was really powerful, but i saw many women unfold that perception in the dark - and begin to listen to their own silenced dreams.

  5. I just reread this! Ahhhh, so poignant and beautiful!


What are you thinking/feeling? I'd really love to know...

♥ Julia