The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World

A literary ode to peace, presence, and fulfillment inspired by a walk taken with a most surprising creature.

“The demon of speed is often associated with forgetting, with avoidance…and slowness with memory and confronting,” observes Milan Kundera in his novel Slowness. With that purpose in mind—a search for slowness and tranquillity—Andy Merrifield set out on a journey of the soul with a friend’s donkey, to walk amid the ruins and spectacular vistas of southern France’s Haute-Auvergne. The purposeful pace of the journey and the understated nobility of Gribouille, his humble donkey companion, allowed him to confront himself as well as to consider the larger mysteries of life—insight he now shares in his enchanting book, The Wisdom of Donkeys. As Merrifield contemplates literature, science, truth and beauty, and the universality of nature amid the French countryside, Gribouille surprises him with his subtle wisdom, reminding him time and again that enlightenment is all around us if we but seek it. Traveling with Andy Merrifield and Gribouille, we’re reminded of the contemplative and exquisite benefits of nature, passive adventuring, and wild spaces.

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2 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Donkeys: Finding Tranquility in a Chaotic World”

  1. Persuaded by Patience This is one of those rare books you hope will never end, so full is it of warmth and humanity.Paradoxically, these virtues make it difficult to write about, because they are subjective and fuzzy round the edges. But I want to try, since I was wonderfully moved more than once in my bedtime reading.A simpler plot would be hard to imagine. The author takes a rented donkey on a walking journey through the byways of the Haute Auvergne region of southern France. As the two meander along tracks and paths, Andy Merrifield, a former Geography teacher in British and American universities and author of the biographies of two 20th century French philosophers, and Gribouille, his donkey, form a kind of symbiotic relationship (though it may be that Andy needs Gribouille more than Gribouille needs Andy).Throughout the story, the author makes reference to donkeys in literature, philosophy and religion, citing Cervantes, Spinoza, Anne Sexton, Schubert, Dostoyevsky, the Old Testament, the Koran and Aesop (among others), which provides a counterpoint to the journey that man and beast make together.But it’s Andy’s feelings for Gribouille that make the story, for me, so touching and rewarding. He finds in his donkey the values to which he aspires–of patience, of calm, of acceptance of suffering, of forbearance, and for therapy (making the point that animals such as donkeys can be used fruitfully in homes for the aged, or sick).There is great strength in the writing, unsentimental, romantic, perhaps, but, shining through, a calm smile of resignation at the folly of the world.This is a book I shall treasure, and return to.

  2. donkey wellness This little volume offers forty meditations on a donkey, many often offered to a donkey, as the author on his walk through southern France has only the long ears of his donkey, Gribouille, to enchant. Merrifield sees the donkey as our double as well as the “nemesis of our frantic age.” The author also notes the therapeutic properties of donkeys and the reverie they inspire as one waits for them to decide what’s next. Guiding lights are Dostoevsky’s Myshkin, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sancho Panza, Gaston Bachelard and Anne Sexton. Little stories about the author are woven together with stories of his donkey friend and of his readings, reflections and meetings with people who feel for donkeys. Some sweet pages tell of a donkey healer in Egypt who helps the rural farmers keep their helpmates as healthy as they can afford in the difficult circumstances they survive. Either donkeys are incredibly soulful, longsuffering companions on this earth or we humans are fabulously adept at overlooking our anthropomorphic idealizations in search of exemplary conduct. No matter the case, the result is a pretty one and very peaceful. The author now happily revels in the French countryside and reviles the former realities of his rat race life in New York City. This book is one of those whose itinerary and distances have only little relevance to the journey of a generous mind and meditative days spent with donkeys.

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