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Lions Roar : July 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2013 46 By Lewis Richmond GRATITUDE LIES JUST BENEATH the surface of our ex- perience, and our mind is always ready to find it. One of the contemplative exercises I teach is a walk in nature with the underlying intention of gratitude. As you walk, whatever you see, whatever you hear, think of gratitude and allow the mind to register its own connections to thankfulness. Gratitude is a welcome antidote to aging’s inevitable losses, and recently—on the occasion of my sixty-sixth birthday—I decided to put the gratitude walk into practice. I chose a hik- ing path that bordered a marshland creek, which due to re- cent construction continued on a wooden walkway built over wetlands at the edge of San Francisco Bay. Starting out, I saw a blue jay burying some treasure, storing supplies for the com- ing winter. Blue jays can remember thousands of such hiding places; they have the best memories of any birds. I thought, “treasure,” and then I remembered: my social security pay- ments would be starting next month. I was happy about that. I had worked a whole lifetime for my benefits and had weath- ered some serious illnesses along the way: gratitude! Next, in the creek, gliding along with the slow tidal current, I saw a pair of mallards, male and female, swimming side by side. I suddenly remembered a time, thirteen years ago, when I lay in a coma from a dire brain in- fection. The doctors had told my wife that there was scant chance I would survive. But I did, and I like to joke to workshop audiences that luckily doctors don’t know everything. After I recovered, I asked my wife how she took that news, since it was painful for me to picture her having to hear it alone. She said she simply didn’t be- lieve it. During the time I lay lifeless in intensive care, wherever she went, she would see pairs of birds. Outside my hospital-room window, she saw a pair of mourning doves on a tele- phone wire. Another time she saw two hawks in a cedar tree, one large, one small—female hawks are larger than males. Another time, pulling out of our driveway to come to the hospital, she saw two crows perched side by side on a nearby fence, watching her. To her these sightings were positive omens, signs that I would soon awaken. And of course I did. I hadn’t thought of my wife’s story for years, but seeing the pair of ducks in the stream reminded me, and again I felt gratitude. As the path opened out into the tidal flatlands, I was looking for the white plumage of the egrets that often could be seen wading at water’s edge. Instead I spotted the slow languid flap- ping of a great blue heron flying by, so close that I could see its bright eyes intent on the water below. Seeing these magnifi- cent birds is not an everyday occurrence in this area. They stand more than four feet tall, and seeing one is supposed to bring good luck. I took this one’s appearance as a birthday greeting and once again felt gratitude to be so close to great nature so near a great city. I had one more reason to be grateful: I had just successfully lost twelve pounds, something my doctor had been prodding me to do for years. Though I had tried many methods and diets, I hadn’t been able to do it and was beginning to judge myself harshly. With all my years of Buddhist practice, why couldn’t I do such a simple thing? But with new resolve, a cal- orie-counter app on my smartphone, lots of no-calorie Japa- nese pickles, and daily exercise, finally the pounds came off. At sixty-six, there’s a lot I can no longer physically do—a legacy of illness and the wear and tear of years. While my knees are still good (still able to sit cross-legged!), my joints are stiff, my balance is a bit shaky, and it’s been years since I have been PHOTOBYPAULABBITT/MILLENNIUMIMAGES,U.K.