Ten months ago my dog, Kona, was given a terminal diagnosis. Based on the location of her tumor, the size of her tumor and the functioning levels of her organs, the doctors and technicians gave her one-month to live. I was devastated. The surgery would have cost $5,000-$7,000 based on the location of the tumor and they weren’t even certain if she would make it out alive; even if she did, she might only have another 12 months-18 months to live. As a graduate student, I simply could not afford to risk that amount of money on a surgery that could end with so much uncertainty. My mind began swirling with thoughts- “what am I going to do without my best friend?”, “am I actually going to be able to function without her?”, “how can I possibly navigate this new terrain that I am not prepared for?”, “why me?”. I sat in the sadness, guilt, fear and confusion for weeks. I simply could not figure out how to cope with this unexpected news.
I had contemplated putting off school until the following year and being with her for her last days, giving her everything a dog could possibly want in their last moments of life. I wanted so badly to escape from this new reality of impending doom and force it behind me. I spoke with an instructor about dropping from the program. She advised that I hang tight and stick through the semester; no matter how hard we try we cannot predict the future. As my world seemingly crumbled around me and I was in the process of grieving a loss that had not even occurred yet, I began to realize that I was missing out on the time that I have been graciously given with my best friend.
Serendipitously, an instructor gave an assignment with which we were to choose a spot in nature and meditate three times a week. Very slowly our walks became more meaningful. As we approached our tree, Kona would veer off the trail and stand at its low-hanging branches, inviting me to come sit with her in the tree and simply be. It was in these moments that I began to realize how fortunate I am to have crossed paths with this being. Together, we began a delicate dance of grief, praise and gratitude. Soon without even realizing it, we would begin to stop mid trail. In these moments the world stopped and nothing else mattered. It was Kona, nature and myself. She would often jump up and give me a hug, her way of thanking me. I began to savor these moments; grateful for every passing second I had with her.
While I have absolutely no scientific proof or hard evidence to back it up, I cannot help but think that having an attitude of gratitude has somehow contributed to Kona’s longevity. Being present with Kona during her time of need and expressing gratitude for her has also brought us closer together. Our veterinarian, Dr. Vail of Gunbarrel Veterinary Hospital, often says, “I don’t know what you are doing, but keep doing it!”. Now, I can honestly say that I am grateful to have had this jarring experience with one of the most important beings in my life. She has unintentionally shown me the beauty in death, the fragility of life and that even when it seems as though our world is crumbling, glimmers of hope, love, and light can still exist.
Luckily, we do not have to experience a jarring scenario for the seeds of gratitude to bloom. Like a plant, an attitude of gratitude takes practice and attention. And, truth be told, on some days we have to look even harder for things to be grateful for; it simply does not happen over night. When our attention becomes focused on what is going right rather than what is going wrong, we can ever so slowly can begin to realize how many miracles we encounter every day.
So how can we cultivate an attitude of gratitude?
Taking a few minutes out of our day to check in with ourselves and feel what/who is important to us in that moment. This can be intentional or happen organically. We often feel moments of gratitude without being conscious that that is what we are doing.
Telling the people we know, love and care about that we are grateful to have them in our lives (if this feels too uncomfortable to do verbally, a simple note or text message does just fine)
Making time in our day to write down three things we are grateful for in a journal or notebook.
Creating a time or space in our homes to share with one another what we are grateful for from our day or in that particular moment.
Eventually, our intentions become habit. After sometime our thoughts and experiences of gratitude flow into our stream of unconsciousness. It is then that we can begin to realize how beautiful of a world we live in-from the inside, out.