Being Thankful Can Change Your Life

Why I Started a Gratitude Practice

by Carol Hendershot

Three months ago, I started a gratitude practice. I know, it seems a bit late. I’ve been hearing about the benefits of gratitude and recommending it for years but somehow I couldn’t quite buy into it. So, I just kept putting it off.

On August 17, I arrived at Cloud Mountain Retreat Center in the southern part of Washington State for a long-anticipated silent retreat. Cloud Mountain is in an amazingly beautiful setting in the midst of a rainforest. Everything was covered in moss, and the big, abundant ferns made me even more excited to take hikes and climb up to the mountaintop yoga space with breathtaking views; I was in heaven.

To get settled in I had to climb up a steep hill while pulling a little red wagon filled with my luggage and bedding. I underestimated the steepness of the hill and the heaviness of the load and slipped on some stones about halfway up. As I hit the ground I heard a loud pop and felt a shooting pain racing from my left knee through my whole body. After a few minutes, I tried to get up but as soon as I got off the ground there was another sharp pain and down I went.

A female firefighter and a big burly guy got all but carried me back to the main building. As my knee started to swell, it was evident that I wasn’t going back up the hill or anywhere else.

I was terrified that my retreat was over. I had visions of trying to find a flight back and how expensive it would be.  I was crushed that nothing had worked out as I’d planned and I was feeling really sorry for myself. I couldn’t hike, do yoga, climb hills, do walking meditation or maybe even stay there. The longer I sat there counting the things I wasn’t going to be able to do, the more miserable I became. To say I was caught in a negative downward spiral would be underestimating the situation.

However, after a visit to the med center, a new pair of crutches, and an electric scooter, I determined that I wasn’t leaving. That was the beginning of my adventure into gratitude.

For the next two weeks, all I could do was meditate and watch my body heal. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never paid much attention to my body’s healing processes. In the past, I did my thing and my body did its thing and that was that. But this time, I could actually feel my body get stronger by the hour. I would go to sleep with big pillows between my knees and each morning there was less pain and more mobility and I didn’t do anything. Was this what being was like?

That was when I decided to give this gratitude thing a try. I mean, after all, some pretty interesting things were happening. During the day, in between bathroom breaks and meals, I not only became more intimate with my body but also with my mind. The constant chatter started to calm down and I began to experience a stillness I had never felt before. As I noticed the sense of ease and calm, I really did start to feel grateful for this experience. I then directed my gratitude to the fact that I was there with a teacher I’d wanted to study with for three years, and he was even more amazing than I had hoped. Leigh Brasington has been teaching deep states of concentration for many years, and here I was, in the right place, at the right time, with the right conditions to take advantage of his wisdom and skill in offering the teachings. My whole experience had been transformed and I’m pretty sure I would do it all over again, exactly the same way, knee and all.

Since I returned, I’ve been practicing gratitude every day. I write down all the big and small things that make my life rich and meaningful (just two or three a day), and the more I do this, the more rich and meaningful my life becomes.

Don’t wait to break a bone or tear a ligament in your knee to take advantage of this practice. It might just transform your life.