There was a man in Turkey who was travelling with his favourite donkey, a faithful companion for years and an animal very close to his heart. At the end of a hard day on the road he came to an inn and decided to rest there for the night. No sooner than he had taken off the saddle bags than a youth working for the inn came out to greet him.
“Salaam Aleikum, sir, welcome to our humble shelter! Please, come inside and get some warm soup and sit beside the fire.”
“Of course, I’d love to but first I must make sure my donkey is well cared for.” The man said, patting his donkey on the back. The youth smiled generously.
“Please, sir, allow me to attend to such details, you are an honoured guest here.”
“But it’s just that he’s an old donkey and needs a nice bed of hay to lie in.”
“Sir, we guarantee you the best care possible.”
“But you will sweep the floor first to make sure there are no stones? He gets in a terrible mood if he doesn’t sleep well.”
“Please, sir, just trust me, we are professionals here.”
“But you will add some water to his straw – his teeth are getting shakey and he likes just a little fresh grass to begin with.”
“Sir, you are embarrassing me!”
“And you will give him a little rubdown along the spine – he goes crazy for that!”
“Sir, please just leave everything to me.”
So finally the man gave in and entered the establishment to enjoy a fine dinner by the fire and a comfortable bed. Meanwhile the youth rolled his eyes and… then went out to play cards in a nearby den.
The man could not sleep somehow, despite the silk sheets, as he kept having nightmares of his donkey chained up without water or food, lying on the cold stone. The vision wouldn’t leave him and so he got up in his dressing gown, walked down the steps to the stable and there! His donkey was in exactly the condition he’d imagined – cold, hungry and dying of thirst.
The same story can be found in poetry form in The Essential Rumi:
AFTER THE MEDITATION
Now i see something in my listeners
that won’t let me continue this way.
The ocean flows back in
and puts up a foam barrier,
and then withdraws.
After a while,
it will come in again.
This audience wants to hear more
about the visiting Sufi and his friends
in meditation. But be discerning.
Don’t think of this as a normal character
in an ordinary story.
The ecstatic meditation ended.
Dishes of food were brought out.
The Sufi remembered his donkey
that had carried him all day.
He called to the servant there, “Please,
go to the stable and mix the barley generously
with the straw for the animal. Please.”
“Don’t worry yourself with such matters,
All things have been attended to.”
“But I want to make sure that you wet the barley first.
He is an old donkey, and his teeth are shaky.”
“Why are you telling me this?
I have given the appropriate orders.”
“But did you remove the saddle gently,
and put salve on the sore he has?”
“I have served thousands of guests
with these difficulties, and all have gone away
satisfied. here, you are treated as family,
Do not worry. Enjoy yourself.”
“But did you warm his water
just a little, and then add only a bit of straw
to the barley?’
“Sir, I’m ashamed for you.”
sweep the stall clean of stones and dung,
and scatter a little dry earth in it.”
“For God’s sake, sir,
leave my business to me!”
“And did you currycomb his back?
He loves that.”
“Sir, I am personally
responsible for all these chores!”
The servant turned and left at a brisk pace …
to join his friends in the street.
The Sufi then lay down to sleep
and had terrible dreams about his donkey,
how it was being torn to pieces by a wolf,
or falling helplessly into a ditch.
And his dreaming was right!
His donkey was being totally neglected. weak and gasping,
without food or water all the night long.
The servant had done nothing he said he would.
There are such vicious and empty flatterers
in your life. Do the careful,
Don’t trust that to anyone else.
There are hypocrites who will praise you,
but who do not care about the health
of your heart-donkey.
Be concentrated and leonine
in the hunt for what is your true nourishment.
Don’t be distracted by blandishment-noises,
of any sort.
PONDER AND CONSIDER
Rumi then sums up by saying: the world is full of those who say whatever is necessary to get their way. When it comes to looking after your heart donkey, it’s entirely up to us. We are the only real keepers of our feelings and no one knows better than us what we really need, hence the value of trusting our intuition and taking care of our hearts as though it really were an old, faithful companion.
The moral of the tale: if you own something as precious as a donkey or a heart, you’d better take care of it yourself.