Shared Wisdom Guest Post
Featuring Julia Fehrenbacher from Painted Path

How to Paint a Donkey
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.

The first time I heard the above poem, my heart got all soft and open and my eyes filled with tears.  The second time I read it, 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 that “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, another’s 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.

From years of observing my mind, I’ve noticed that it is a whole lot like a tape recorder-rewinding and fast forwarding, playing and replaying the same stories over and over again, projecting its fearful thoughts into some faraway future place.  I’ve noticed how, in an instant, my worried, shoulding, doubting, questioning, second-guessing thoughts  can rip me out of a good, quiet, inspired place.  No matter how many self help books I’ve devoured (more than should be legal), no matter how many meditation groups I’ve attended, no matter how many deep, spiritual conversations I’ve had, my mind just wants to rewind and play again.

Though I still allow (especially at certain predictable times of the month) my thoughts to drag me into dark, hidden places, places that seemed to hold me hostage until I can manage to crawl out from under them, I have learned too much to stay in the dark for long.

I’ve learned that to access that place of enough-ness, I must drop below the level of my limited thoughts, to a place that is open and welcoming and limitless and true and beautifully whole, where nothing needs to be improved or changed or fixed.  I’ve learned that I can press pause each time those old, worn-out stories try to replay themselves, I don’t have to follow them to their daunting end.

I’ve also learned that there are gifts in all of it, the light and the dark, and that it’s all happening for me not to me.   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 rather than simply BEing.  Isn’t it a relief to know that we have only to paint our own precious, 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.


During the small windows of time when her two little girls are occupied elsewhere, Julia paints and writes and contemplates the deep questions of life. More than anything she wants to sprinkle some good around in this world and is always looking for ways to do more of that. If you’d like to join her on this path of shedding & opening and living from a place of truth and authenticity, please visit her at, she’d so love to have you there.

Thank you so much, Julia, for sharing your authentic soul with each of us today. You touched on a life lesson that so many of us are in the process of learning – knowing that we are good enough exactly as we are. And I am forever grateful that our paths have crossed and we can support each other along this journey.

P.S. – Julia’s super sweet paintings can be seen in her Etsy shop. ♥