On Being Mindful of Donkeys


THERE IS A STORY OF MULLA NAZRUDDIN, A CRAZY-WISDOM TEACHING FIGURE IN THE SUFI TRADITION. It seems that Mulla was engaged in trade between his home city and the neighboring country. The customs officials at the border suspected that he was smuggling something, but whenever they examined his saddlebags, they could never find anything of value. Finally, one day a friend asked Mulla how he was becoming wealthy. He replied, “I’m smuggling donkeys.”   ~Joseph Goldstein

Today, as I spoke with my therapist, I was reminded of the story of the donkey smuggler in Joseph Goldstein’s, Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening. My therapist, Dr. O, explained that suffering often comes from the stories we attach to situations, rather than the situations themselves. For example, I’ve often complained to Dr. O about having another Bipolar breakdown and of the embarrassment, fear, and frustration of needing to take time off from work. I was caught up in the narrative of myself as the product of a dysfunctional childhood who had grown up to be a fraud, ultimately doomed to failure. That I needed to take time off from work was proof that my fears were coming true.

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However, I learned through my therapy with Dr. O that this was one of many possible narratives. Another narrative might be that I was incredibly brave and responsible to be taking the time to get my medications right and face the depression that has plagued me for so long. That as a result of taking time off to get healthy, I was being a loving and caring father and husband who, it could be argued, was a perfect example of strength and responsibility. Strangely, or maybe predictably, I had never thought of this.

What I’m learning is that neither story is really necessary. Instead, it’s better to just be mindful of the present moment and live the best I can right here. While it’s obvious how thinking of myself as a fraud and failure is self-defeating, it also may not be helpful to try and view myself as a great guy. Why? Because making this effort is ultimately getting caught up in the way I want things to be, the way I want to be viewed by others. And this “wanting” takes me out of the present moment. So while one way of thinking is more harmful, neither produces contentment right here, right now.

So I’ve decided to remain mindful of this moment, absolutely immersed in the soft tapping of my fingers on the keyboard. I’ll cultivate a sense of pure gratitude for the clarity of the window in my living room that faces a marvelous Jacaranda tree, radiant with bright yellows and greens.

And as I reflect on my years of mindless living, I can’t help but wonder how many donkeys passed right beneath my nose.






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