In September, I had the privilege of attending a small group talk with an internationally renowned professor of religion at a local college. We had a wide-ranging discussion about Buddhism, including about gratitude practice.
Less than two years ago, the professor was in a very serious bicycling accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. Someone in our group asked him what he was thinking and what was his practice as he lie in that hospital bed. He said, “Gratitude.” Gratitude to everyone who was supporting him and especially to the medical staff that was nursing him back to health.
A few weeks later, I was in the San Francisco Bay Area for a conference. I went out a day early to do some hiking at Point Reyes National Seashore, which required renting a car. Five blocks from the rental store, I accidentally blew through a red light. I was only a few feet into the intersection when I realized what I was doing. In my peripheral vision, I could see a pedestrian crossing the street, a woman who was at least 55, if not older, and as I went through the intersection, I could see cars waiting to go in both directions. I gunned it and drove through the intersection without a scratch and without a ticket.
In the minutes afterwards, I was shaken while thinking about what could have happened. Worst case scenario, I hit the pedestrian. Next-best scenario, I’m in an accident with one of the cars at the intersection. Next-best scenario, I get a ticket, which in California I’m guessing goes for a few hundred bucks. (Thank you, SFPD, for being nowhere in sight.) The best-case scenario is what happened. I made it through the intersection without incident.
In that moment of thinking “what if,” I thought back to the professor. And I used gratitude practice to calm myself. My gratitude was for everyone in that intersection who was paying attention when I was not.
This week there is a lot of focus on giving thanks, and that thanks is often focused on family and friends and health. They are very important. Of course, gratitude is something that we can practice every day, in ways big and small. And it feels great.