One clear winter’s day I decided to take a walk in the tiny Colorado wilderness town where I live. The sky was a shade of azure blue peculiar to the higher elevations of the Rockies. The early March sun poured like liquid gold through the limbs of tall spruce, creating dancing patterns of light in the delicate crystals of freshly fallen snow. Mountain peaks rose majestically in sculpted layers of greens and greys, piercing clouds that hung like fairy mist in the enchanted valleys below.
Marching resolutely down the road, I was all but blind to the extraordinary beauty. Attempting to relax before driving down the mountain to undergo a breast biopsy at the local hospital, I was actually reviewing the endless menu of dire medical possibilities that might materialize. As my mind slid into well-worn patterns of awfulizing, it gathered momentum. Not only might my body be in mortal danger, but my life wasn’t working so well in other ways either. Not only did the glass seem half empty, but the remaining water appeared downright polluted! I felt overworked and burned out. What kind of crazy life had I managed to create- especially when I am supposed to be some kind of role model for others? Guilt, fear, anger and disappointment joined the cacophany of inner voices accompanying me down the road on my attempt at a mindful relaxation walk.
I was rudely awakened from my toxic reverie by a searing pain in my hindquarters. Perfectly focused on my well rehearsed mental movies, I had been completely unaware of the speedy approach of a large German Shepherd who bounded up and bit me unceremoniously on the behind. My mental movie department immediately began to run a feature film starring my bare buttocks being sutured in the Boulder Community Hospital emergency room, while I was simultaneously being injected with huge doses of tetanus toxoid and rabies vaccine. I would, no doubt, miss my biopsy and have to undergo that second round of medical torture on another day.
I reached down into my pants expecting to encounter a sticky mass of blood. Strangely, my hand emerged perfectly clean. Energized by sudden hope I slipped behind a bush and pulled my pants down. While a large red welt, framed by the impression of a perfect set of canine teeth, graced my derriere, the skin was magically unbroken. With a yelp of pure joy, I pulled up my pants and burst from the bushes with a whoop of uncensored gratitude. No emergency room. No tetanus shots. No slow death from rabies. I could get to the biopsy on time. Lucky me.
Suddenly, the entire scene seemed hilariously funny. The dog was transformed from a nasty cur to a Divine Messenger. “Wake up you silly human! Feel the sun on your face and the wind in your hair. You’re alive and the world is beautiful. The mountains are magnificent and the day is young. There are endless possibilities to experience and worlds to create.” The veil of forgetfulness dropped from my eyes and I suddenly found myself overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift of life. Every breath was precious. Every tree a miracle. The stresses I had obsessed about seemed like cleverly constructed challenges that beckoned me to create life more mindfully and authentically. Peace settled around me like a down quilt and I felt held by unseen arms.
Gratitude is indeed like a gearshift that can move our mental mechanism from obsession to peacefulness, from stuckness to creativity, from fear to love. The ability to relax and be mindfully present in the moment comes naturally when we are grateful. One of the most delightful aspects of my Jewish heritage is the saying of Brachot, blessings or prayers of thanksgiving throughout the day. These are praises of God for creating a world of infinite wonder and possibility. There is a blessing upon seeing a star or a rainbow. There is a blessing for the gifts of food, wine and water. There is even a blessing upon going to the bathroom for internal organs that function so well. I like to add impromptu blessings throughout the day. Thanks to the Infinite Creative Universe, the Unknown Mystery we call God, for creating German Shepherds to wake us up at the most unlikely times! Thanks, too, for a biopsy that was negative- one of the few instances where negative turns out to be a positive thing! So, throughout the day, when you find yourself stuck in awfulizing about the things that seem wrong, remember to say a prayer of gratitude for all the things that are right.